Grant Mitchell

Willem Dafoe has been a staple in Hollywood for a long time, but within the last decade since the advent and popularization of social media, his star has ascended to legendary status.

With the prevalence of meme-culture abounding, Willem Dafoe’s more colorful performances have been brought to light through social media and made him into a cult-classic actor.

It also helps that at 65 years old, Dafoe is at the top of his game as a character actor, utilizing all of his decades of experience to bring forth powerful and memorable performances in all of his works.

A recent film that came out and was as bizarre as some of Dafoe’s past performances was 2019’s “The Lighthouse,” which Dafoe starred in alongside Robert Pattinson.

When watching “The Lighthouse,” you get the distinct feeling that the calm and relatively normal introduction to the period piece is a calm before the storm.

It most definitely is.

Pattinson’s and Dafoe’s characters have a bit of a tenuous relationship. Dafoe’s character, Thomas, is an experienced lighthouse worker and orders around Pattinson’s Ephraim because of this seniority.

While the tension never, in its entirety, leaves the film, a more psychological element does enter into the film in a very real way.

At first, it’s through odd dreams at night and strange sounds heard during the day by Pattinson’s character, but very quickly, these mysterious dreams and noises fester and grow into what appears to be a form of cabin-fever.

When Dafoe and Pattinson have a confrontation regarding Dafoe’s exclusive work in the lighthouse and Pattinson’s hallucinations, the situation deescalates as Dafoe comforts Pattinson and reminds him they will be leaving soon. Shortly thereafter, the two men engage in a wild night of drinking as they celebrate their planned, morning departure.

But the ship never comes.

What ensues is the two men attempting to continue with their duties as they hope for a rescue from their island, all the while their nightly drinking intensifies, ultimately carrying into the daytime for Pattinson.

The real turning point for the film comes when, during one of the all-night drinking sessions, Pattinson’s character reveals he has been a criminal and has adopted an alias in which he is currently working under.

At which point Dafoe, who was moments before laying on the floor inebriated and essentially incapacitated, vanishes and remains only as a disembodied voice asking Pattinson, “Why’d you spill your beans?”

From there, the literal actions and plot of the film are anyone’s guess.

What I love about “The Lighthouse” is how it delves into the subject of insanity of its characters and their situation. It begins with slight incongruences between the characters and their identities, and then slowly transitions to full-blown insanity.

Unlike many films or shows that want to get to the juicy parts quickly, “The Lighthouse” takes its time and waits to hit you with its true meaning and intentions until you are already hooked by its seemingly innocuous plot and characters.

In that sense, this black-and-white film very much reminds me of the classic tales told in both 1960’s “The Twilight Zone,” as well as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” because it builds up a world that seems normal at first, but ends so vaguely and strangely that the entire film/episode feels like it was a mental exercise posed to philosophy students.

“The Lighthouse” makes great work of this odd atmosphere and its excellent actors and creates an abstract cinematic world that is as bizarre as it is interesting and unforgettable.

Grant T. Mitchell is a senior at UT this year majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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