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Diving into ‘The Lighthouse’ with Director Robert Eggers

IFFBoston and A24 host screening, Q&A at Harvard’s Brattle Theater

An advanced screening of “The Lighthouse,” a film directed by Robert Eggers, uneased and astonished audiences at the Brattle Theater Oct. 17.

The event, hosted in collaboration with A24, marked the beginning of the new “The Film And…” Festival, hosted by Independent Film Festival of Boston.

According to the Brattle’s lead creative programming director Ned Hinkle, the Festival focuses  on film screenings and related events that range from live commentary to director Q&As and lectures.

“The Lighthouse” is the much-anticipated sophomore film from Robert Eggers, the director known for his critically acclaimed debut horror film “The VVitch,” also released by A24. Horror aficionados and A24 fans alike lined up outside of the Brattle in hopes of gaining entrance to this advanced screening of “The Lighthouse.” Located in Harvard Square, the Brattle has been operating since 1953 and boasts independent, repertory-style programming that features classic, foreign and art-house cinema. While admission was free, the small capacity of the theater limited the screening to a first-come, first-serve basis.

Set in the 1890s, “The Lighthouse” portrays the descent of two men into darkness as they weather the simultaneously beguiling and terrifying forces of the ocean. The film explores the existential tension and homoerotic physicality between Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, respectively. A slow-burning, psychological thriller, “The Lighthouse” investigates how nature and human nature can foster darkness.

“The Lighthouse”’s most pronounced attributes are its intensely stylized visual and technical aspects. Utilizing the atypical dimensions of a 1.19:1 aspect ratio to claustrophobic effect, “The Lighthouse” most closely resembles films from Hollywood’s bygone eras. The film’s high contrast sharpens Dafoe’s wrinkly grimaces and Pattinson’s fearful glances with an exaggerated severity. These technical aspects are what allow Eggers’ film to paint an unnerving portrait of the loss of sanity. “The Lighthouse” resembles the stylized gothicism of American paintings like those by Edward Hopper.

After the screening, the Brattle brought out Director Robert Eggers for a quick question-and-answer session with the audience about the production of the film. Responding to a question about his experience creating the set of “The Lighthouse,” Eggers discussed the painstaking process of cultivating the film’s atmosphere. Further elaborating on the focus of even minute details, Eggers described how “the period-correct buttons, the facial hair and the dirt under the fingernails” gave “The Lighthouse” a rare realism.

Responding to a question about whether it was difficult to negotiate the culturally obsolete aspect ratio with the film’s financiers, Eggers bluntly said, “Yes.” The audience laughed, and he continued, “To be totally frank,… A24 was totally supportive and gave me an incredible amount of freedom. … That didn’t mean that I didn’t have to talk a lot and wear them down to get what I want.”

Many audience members had questions relating to Eggers’ inspiration and creative process behind “The Lighthouse,” which features archaic, accent-heavy dialogue and references to specific sea tales of sirens and mythology. “It took a lot of research, being that this film took place in a nautical setting in the 19th century,” Eggers said. “Obviously, we are going to open up Melville, … Coleridge, … Stevenson and other usual suspects.”

According to Deadline, “The Lighthouse” opened on eight screens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. to an estimated $419,764, receiving a 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In the coming weeks, the film will expand to about 500 screens nationwide.

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