It's hard to reconcile 'The Lighthouse' - a movie that takes its cues from the likes of Herman Melville, Greek mythology, Edgar Allen Poe, German Expressionism and more - and the man who put it all together.
At 36 and two movies into his career, Robert Eggers doesn't look like he's the sort to make these kind of movies. He's dressed in plain black attire, sports a cropped haircut and beard, and numerous gold rings adorn his fingers. He wouldn't look out of place in a fashionable tattoo parlour, and he speaks with a flat American accent and at a brisk pace.
Yet, in both his movies - 2018's 'The Witch' (or 'The VVitch') and 2020's 'The Lighthouse' - they feature period-specific dialogue and dress, deal with issues and themes missing from today's world, and almost seem to reject everything that's in mainstream movies today.
Eggers has no easy answer for his success to date, and the question seems to make him somewhat uncomfortable, but he does his best to answer. "It's... honestly not something I think about. I just try to get my work done and make the best of what I can," he offers, and speaks on how not all of his work is so widely praised.
He points to the fact that 'The Lighthouse' didn't win over everyone who watched it, but he comforts himself with the certainty that he made the movie the way he wanted, and that it was told as best as he could do. "I can doubt myself after, but not before and not during. It's not easy to... try and balance my expectations against my ambitions. I just have to trust what I'm doing, and then reexamine it after."
On the topic of his actors, he applauds their work ethic, and how devoted both of them were to the script. On the question of Willem Dafoe, Eggers explains that the role was one meant to evoke mythological characters. "He's Pan, he's a satyr, he is this devilish, trickster god, he's gaslighting Rob's character, and yet, we're still utterly enthralled by him, because he's that good," Eggers explains.
In particular, the Triton speech - which sees Dafoe call down the sea god to strike dead Robert Pattinson's character - is one such moment, but it's couched between some ridiculous humour. In fact, the whole reason for the speech is that Robert Pattinson's character hates Willem Dafoe's cooking. The soggy, old-world monologue is the cornerstone of Dafoe's performance, and it's one that Eggers wrote with the full mind of Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and more in his mind.
"I wrote it again and again, kept taking stuff out and putting it back in, questioning how far to go with it, going back over it again, until it was where it needed to be," he explains. The script itself in the scene leaves nothing to chance. Even the minutely shaking fists are on the page.
While 'The Lighthouse' may have been locked out of the awards season, bar a nomination for Best Cinematography, the audience reactions so far and the critical acclaim no doubt point to something far more long-lasting than award nominations. In fact, Eggers is already gearing up for his next project, 'The Northman', one that sees him reteam with Willem Dafoe and tells a tale of vengeance in 10th century Iceland.
'The Lighthouse' is now in Irish cinemas.