*Spoilers – Mature Content*
The light… seed… Veritas…Thomas Wake
Thomas, meaning “twin” in Aramaic, is the name of both leads in the Eggers brothers’ script for The Lighthouse. Funny, they kind of look alike, if at different ends of their lives, but that’s probably a coincidence. The younger of the two Toms prefers to be called Ephraim until about the 2/3 point of the film. Ephraim, meaning “fruitful” in Hebrew, being the identity vacated by his former boss at the logging mill, when he died under a collapsing pile of wood. When my lady and I sat down to watch it, last night, the first thing she said was, “Is this Freud?” referring no doubt to the new Netflix show by that name, and Old Tom’s beard. Likely just a coincidence, but that crushing pile of logs didn’t turn out to be the only sexual innuendo buried in this dense, black, period piece about a monumental shaft and it’s two Toms. Masturbating, delirious and unfocused, stabbing his mermaid doll, Young Tom, the hapless polisher of the Lighthouse, is haunted by the dead man named after a seed, sea gods and the one-eyed, severed head of the man who came before him. I hope you’ve already seen it, because I’m not trying to make it a parody. Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a starkly beautiful, brilliantly acted and edited, slow-burn, abstract meditation on mortality, identity and truth, literate with numerous references to Melville and shades of Lovecraft. What strikes me as possibly it’s greatest achievement, though, is its plowing dead straight through a storm of phallic metaphors, and a sexual philosophy of mankind’s destiny, with all of the seriousness of MacBeth, but the subtlety of Hamlet, so that general audiences and critics alike left the show without a clue that they had spent the previous 109 minutes on a subconscious lesson about the divine truth of the cock.
He notioned St Elmo did cast his very fire into it. Salvation, said he.Thomas Wake
It’s not that it isn’t a vulgar metaphor. Rather, The Lighthouse brings vulgarity and sexuality, and therefore mankind as we truly are, toward the light. If Old Tom is God, and he is this among other things, well he still farts. He drinks. He masturbates, at the top of the lighthouse in his secret chamber where nobody else can go – he literally becomes the beast, slithering in the shadows, tasting of salt and wet with the ocean. That endless ocean, the storm of mystery, surrounding them, beating them down, wearing them out, making young men old and old men into legends – Freud might recognize as the obvious symbolic feminine. In The Lighthouse, femininity is literally an object and a fairytale, a form of dreams, nightmares and hurricanes, never owned, never attained. Old Tom isn’t married to the sea, no, he abandoned his wife for 13 Christmases (of all things), and wedded the lighthouse instead. If Tom isn’t God, well he sure is like God, the wise old fool, full of bluster, drama and lies, but he’s numerous other things as well. In that key shot, stark and stormy, of Dafoe naked, standing on the rocks, staring blindingly into Young Tom’s bared soul, Tom Wake becomes the lighthouse, and the lighthouse is judgement, shame and deliverance all at once. If the lighthouse is a penis, then the penis is like God, the prism at the center of the mystery of existence, giver of life and destroyer of men. Got to say, that’s probably a valid point.
Y’wish to see what’s in that lantern? O what protean forms swim up from men’s minds and melt in hot Promethean plunder, scorching eyes with divine shames and horrors, and cast them down to Davy Jones. And others, still blind, yet in it see all divine graces, and Fiddler’s Green sent, where no man is suffered to want and toil, but is ancient, mutable and unchanging, as the she who girdles round the globe. Them’s truth. And you’ll be punished.Thomas Wake
Eggers mentioned once or twice in an interview that Tom and Tom are symbolic of the myths of Prometheus and Proteus, so you can find that part of the interpretation pretty much anywhere you look. I’ll refrain from the deep dive for that reason. I hate critics, after all, especially when all they bring to table is the obvious, or what the director gave them on a platter. Albeit The Lighthouse is a touch more obtuse than the average, so you could be forgiven for leaving with more awe than understanding. I ended up reading most of the script this morning, because I just wasn’t sure what the dialogue really was at points. Both Dafoe and Pattinson give killer performances, in thick accent and period dialogue. You don’t need to catch it all, of course, as a viewer, just let it wash over you like the epic tide of encroaching crazy that it is, and you’ll do just fine. Enjoy the Lovecraftian references for their sheer oddity, no worry. Parse apart the mystery of the story on a more literal level, that’s every bit as fun and full. Or just be entertained, that’s cool too. But don’t tell me it didn’t mean something. Eggers and Eggers had something very real driving this vision, and it permeates every frame. The Lighthouse is classic Man v Himself, set within the larger narrative of Man v Nature, and in that it is pushing the boundaries of what has come before. It’s an examination of love as a self-reflective journey, conflicted in its inherent homoeroticism, and the isolation of existing on this rock, alone with nothing but ourselves, yearning for a light beyond our own maddening reflections.
Boredom makes men to villains.Thomas Wake
If you missed it, at the beginning Young Tom has a bruise on one eye, explicitly noted in the script. His predecessor, the severed head in the lobster trap, has one eye gouged out. The gull that torments him has one eye. I’m sure that’s probably just coincidence. Certainly it’s not phallic, or among the most used symbols in all of popular culture. Ok, sarcasm aside, we must draw the conclusion from this that Tom is Tom is Tom’s twin, tormentor and slave, and life is a cycle of lies and murders where we are only defeating ourselves, beating ourselves until we bleed or cum, drinking the turpentine of our own lighthouse fires as if it were whisky, until we can’t see a thing, destroying ourselves in fear of being judged by our own shame, our records kept in ledgers of lies where we never forget or forgive a thing, masturbating meaningless, masculine existence, young to old to young to old, shitting, breeding, condemning our brothers who are . . . us. Afraid to love ourselves. At the end, after finally gazing directly into the light, Tom is blinded in both eyes, and the gull feeds on his sickly liver, laying naked and alone on the rocks.
Oh, if we could just learn to enjoy the lobster.
Should pale death with treble dread
make the ocean caves our bed
God who hear’st the surges roll
deign to save the suppliant soul.Thomas Wake