In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for The Lighthouse, we look at important motifs that help us understand the film.
- Robert Pattinson – Ephraim Winslow/Thomas Howard
- Willem Dafoe – Thomas Wake
- Valeriia Karamän – the Mermaid
- Logan Hawkes – the real Ephraim Winslow
Important motifs in The Lighthouse
The film is set on a remote, storm-ridden island, and the characters are isolated from the rest of the world. This isolation intensifies the tensions between them and heightens the viewer’s sense of unease. The motif of isolation is also represented by the claustrophobic confines of the lighthouse and the characters’ sparse living quarters, which contribute to the suffocating atmosphere. A key moment illustrating isolation is when the two characters attempt to escape the island, only to be pushed back by the stormy seas, reinforcing their entrapment.
The Lighthouse is steeped in mythological symbolism, drawing on various mythic traditions, including Greek, maritime, and Christian. For example, the character of the older lighthouse keeper can be seen as a representation of Proteus, a Greek sea-god, while the younger character can be likened to Prometheus. The film also incorporates sea lore, such as mermaids and sirens. A significant moment involving mythology occurs when the younger character steals the light, echoing the myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, which leads to his eventual punishment.
The Lighthouse explores the duality of human nature, presenting its two main characters as opposing yet complementary forces. This duality is evident in the characters’ roles (mentor and apprentice), their appearances (old and young), and their behaviors (dominant and submissive). The motif of duality is further emphasized by the black-and-white cinematography, which creates stark contrasts between light and dark. One scene that showcases this duality is when the two characters dance together, highlighting their symbiotic relationship despite their differences.
The lighthouse’s light itself is a central motif in the film, symbolizing knowledge, power, and the characters’ obsession with it. The light takes on an almost mystical quality, captivating the younger character and driving him to extreme lengths to access it. The light can also be interpreted as a metaphor for enlightenment and self-discovery. A pivotal scene that highlights the importance of light is when the younger character finally reaches the lantern room and gazes into the light, experiencing a moment of transcendent horror.
The Lighthouse chronicles the characters’ psychological decline as their isolation, power struggles, and obsessions take their toll. The film employs a variety of techniques to convey this descent, such as unsettling visuals, disorienting sound design, and increasingly erratic behavior from the characters. One notable scene that demonstrates the characters’ descent into madness is when they find themselves drunkenly fighting and embracing each other, a moment that blurs the line between reality and hallucination.
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