Tag Archives: ghost story

THE LIGHTHOUSE is the movie event of the year.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in Robert Eggers The Lighthouse, now in theaters. [Image from KDSK]

I’m usually a bit jittery about movies that bring a lot of anticipation bolstering their US premiere because the more the promotion, the less likely it’s warrant to deliver on its premise or be watchable past opening night. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse. Knowing next to nothing other than its bare-bones synopsis of two men stranded on a remote location tending to a lighthouse, I walked in, and let his story unfold.

The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, two actors who have been involved in back to back projects that have only managed to cement their status as two of the best working actors in cinema today. Both star as a pair of lighthouse keepers who must take care of the building for a total of five weeks. It’s a task that sounds simple enough — do your duties, rinse and repeat — but soon enough, isolation starts to sink in, and the need for the men, who already don’t like each other, to relate to something human while asserting their own presence starts to play mind games… or does it? Pattinson’s character one night walks out into the dark open to see what looks like a mermaid swimming in the waters beyond. DaFoe stands in front of the huge beaming light of the lighthouse in complete ecstasy, but what is that tentacle quickly seen and that disappears? A sea gull turns out to be more menacing than just bothersome.

Could the night and the fog and the lighthouse itself hold some dark secret?

Robert Eggers never reveals what, in fact, might be the ghost that haunts the grounds where the fabled lighthouse stands, and that is perfect for me. Exposition and backstory are kept to a minimum, only enhancing the entire movie’s mystery and whatever it is that haunts the twosome. All we get is that the previous lighthouse keeper went insane and killed himself. Pattinson’s character longs for some peace and quiet far into the Canadian country and thought this could be a next step into achieving the goal. DaFoe has been chained to the island and the sea for 13 years, a thing that took a toll on his marriage. Meanwhile, in the present, the men go through their daily chores, making irritating small talk (well, technically, DaFoe is the one who talks the most while Pattinson, who starts out as silent as a moonless night, let’s him take center stage), engaging in petty banter over who does what.

Still from the Angelika Film Center, NYC.

The more they engage in the mundane, the farther away they creep from reality. Soon, even a simple dinner sequence becomes a nightmare of repetition in hell with two men aching companionship devolving from mates to enemies to back in a furious kaleidoscopic whirlwind. Eggers movie becomes a ferocious battle of wills to see who will remain the last madman standing, all the while the looming, sinister figure of this lighthouse, the all-knowing sentient spirit, observes without pity or passion.

This is the most cinematically gorgeous movie I have seen this entire year — or this decade, as a matter of fact. It is rare to see black and white, treated with such care that even seeing it at a two-dimensional ratio one can almost see depth in the style of deep focus, and have that morph seamlessly into German Expressionism, only to do a fade out like David Lynch’s Eraserhead towards the ambiguous end. Eggers’ movie seems as though it came out of the lens of someone living and making movies 100 years ago: it is dense, exotic to a letter, alien, mythical, and yes, haunted. Two actors helm the entire production and carry it to next-level narration, something strange and sinister, with fart-jokes and base-level humor to pepper it through as if reminding you these are two uncouth men sharing tight quarters together while the endless storm rages on and they lose their minds. I firmly believe this will a film that will be studied well past tomorrow, and a template for future directors wanting to get behind a camera to make a story come alive.

Unless anything comes along the road that can surpass this movie, I will call The Lighthouse the movie of 2019. Done.

A GHOST STORY

Casey Affleck haunts his former home in David Lowery’s existential A Ghost Story

A GHOST STORY
USA
Director: David Lowery
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

We all have that place that our memories branch out to. What would happen if circumstances beyond our control ripped the fabric of normalcy right out of ourselves and landed us on the other side of reality — the spirit world, a place called limbo? Would we go back to the reality we knew that can never be, see its new tenants, perhaps cohabit in an uneasy agreement with them (while hoping they don’t encroach on our own personal space or the remnants of it)? Would we wander the world seeking for our loved ones, or wait until whatever unresolved conflict would finally mete itself out and set us free to move on?

It is said that a ghost isn’t a spirit at all, but a memory that lingers, an entity that doesn’t know where to go. Nothing could be truer than the case of C, (Casey Affleck), a man in his thirties married contentedly to M (Rooney Mara), living in a quiet little paradise. While their verbal exchanges can be brittle, you get the sense, from a loving exchange following a series of rappings heard around their home (which turns out to be nothing), that this is a couple imperfectly in tune with themselves, loving and living a fulfilled life full of dreams and small joys.

An accident (of which we get to see its aftermath) takes place, and we soon see M identifying C’s body laying on a gurney in the morgue. The camera, which has already¬† established in long, uninterrupted shots the bond and love that both C and M have for each other, continues to gaze over C’s body. Slowly, C rises, still underneath the sheet covering him, and we can almost gauge his own surprise as to how did he get here. Soon, we are following his steps as he makes his way through the hospital, through the fields, and finally, back home, still covered in a white sheet with black, pleading holes for eyes — and I have never seen eyes more expressive than the ones Affleck’s costume projects.

However, instead of pursuing what we thought would be an inevitable climactic scene reminiscent of Ghost, A Ghost Story has other tricks up its sleeves. C, now a textbook ghost haunting his own house, is seen always in the background, silent, never reaching out. One impressive long take shows M coming home from work, grabbing a pie left as a comfort gift by a friend, sitting on the kitchen floor, and angrily gobbling it up while C simply observes from a calculated distance. The silence in this scene is enormous — it threatens to consume the movie whole. One wonders how many parties, dinners, romantic evenings happened in this now dead space where only sadness lives, and it goes on and on until she frantically scrambles out to barf it up outside.

M eventually meets someone, and C is none too happy, and manifests the first of a couple of poltergeist moments. However, she leaves the house, and if the sight of a forlorn ghost standing at the window, seeing his last link to the living world depart forever doesn’t get your tear-ducts going, nothing will.

Other tenants move in: a Latina mother with her two children who are the only ones to actually either see the ghost, or experience notable poltergeist activity. Will Oldham pops up later in a party scene where they discuss the brevity of mankind and the universe. And yet, the ghost lingers, unnoticed, undisturbed. In the meantime, the ghost strikes up bits of telepathic conversation with a neighbor, who seems female from the flowery sheet she’s covered in. She’s waiting for someone, but has forgotten. Not C: C still pines for M, and you see him dutifully scratching at walls, looking for notes she left behind. Soon, the house is a former wreck of itself, and almost on cue after Oldham’s prediction, the only bang that transpires comes in the form of a bulldozer. Soon, we’re moving into the far future as development takes over, and then the far past as time loops in on itself to the days of settlers . . . and then back to the moment C and M first come into the house.

I have always wanted paranormal pictures to tackle the ghost story genre not as one to cause scares, but to explore and perhaps seek closure. I never thought that such an exploration would be as emotionally devastating and profound as Lowery’s film. To experience an unending sense of loss and then re-experience it again as time loops around itself under the guise of a classic bed-sheet ghost is a gamble but one that pays off: had we seen Affleck throughout, we might not have been as open to identify with the situation. Now, Affleck under a sheet (I assume he was always under a sheet) is another story: his ghost becomes a blank canvas where we place everything we know about ourselves, our memories, our fears of death and loss and pain and the possibility that perhaps there is nothing else. I believe — no, I am confident — that A Ghost Story will be a movie to be seen over and over as a study of grief, and what happens when a person is unable, or unwilling, to let go.