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It’s been four long years since Robert Eggers’ The Witch screened at TIFF, but the filmmaker made sure The Lighthouse was worth the wait. Doubling down on everything that distinguished his debut (authentic period dialect, painstakingly precise visuals, plenty of surreal shocks), he delivered a one-of-a-kind sophomore effort that arguably surpasses its predecessor.
After the film’s first TIFF screening, Eggers was joined onstage by stars Willem Dafoe and (the unusually taciturn) Robert Pattinson for a discussion of their terrifying journey into the past.
By 2019 standards, The Lighthouse’s look is incredibly distinctive, but this grew naturally out of the film’s premise. “My brother had an idea for a ghost story in a lighthouse and we kicked this idea around and I got locked in this idea of a two-hander in black-and-white,” Eggers explained. “Because Double-X film stock hasn’t changed since the 1950s, it has a look that takes us to the past immediately. We also used a particular filter to make it look like orthochromatic film from earlier in the century, which shows every pore and blemish in these mens’ faces, which also makes the film richer.”
While the film’s unusual dialogue may seem challenging from a performance perspective, Dafoe saw it as a gift that helped him and Pattinson inhabit their characters. “It’s very specific,” he said. “It’s a very articulate way when we’re trying to get at each other. The language was really fun to play with. It’s one of the first things that gets you into the character really… because I don’t speak like that at home.”
Just as Pattinson had little to say during the Q&A, it seems he had little to say on the set. In fact, Dafoe says he barely knew his co-star until several months after the shoot. “I interviewed him for Interview magazine and I thought, ‘God, we went kind of through the same experience.’ We thought a lot of the same things, but I had no sense of that while we were doing it because I think our characters and our functions in the movie were so different. We were always with each other, but there was always that distance between his mystery and my aggression or whatever it is. We just worked. We didn’t talk about the work. We just did it and it’s only after the fact that we sort of got to know each other.”
Asked what, if anything, this journey into the past might have to say about the present or even the future, Eggers offered some helpful hints. “Like many wannabe auteur types, I’m not out to make a film that has a message or has a particular intention or is deliberately trying to speak about something current,” he explained, but he didn’t stop there. “I don’t live in a vacuum and certain things come to the front. No one in here could enjoy the film if there weren’t things about this that are speaking about what’s happening today, even if it’s not a specific political issue right now—or maybe it is—but it talks about where we come from, where we are, where we’re going as human people.”
The Lighthouse arrives in theatres on October 18. Check out the trailer below.