The Lighthouse (and my guesses as to what’s happening)

9 Oct

*Spoilers ahead

*To lesson confusion, I will be referring to the older lighthouse keeper as “Older” and the younger as “Younger” bc the names change throughout the film.

*The clues are offered in a non-linear way

The clues are more disjointed in the film, not presented in a linear way. Which is both why it’s difficult for the audience to grasp the true timeline, to tell who is who, and also for me to write a post without skipping around. I apologize, blame the author/director.

*The movie NEVER indicates the timeline is off. It is intentionally disjointed to confuse the viewer and have us question what is real.

***key sentence that sums up the entire premise of the movie (approximation of the dialogue): You lie to yourself but you ain’t got the sauce to see it.

The plot/story/interaction begins before the audience gains access and events take place prior to the beginning of this film.

I think the audience is viewing the movie after the story has already started. In the very first scene of the film, Younger goes to his room. But he digs at the bed. There is a hole. And he has to remove a piece of stuffing. He has hidden a mermaid figure in the mattress. And he didn’t stumble upon it, he retrieves it in a knowing way. The movie is telling the audience that we came to view later then the very beginning of the action. This is not the first time Younger has been in the room–it’s the audience’s first time seeing the room. The timeline of events starts PRIOR to the start of the film.

One of the first big hints that the story has begun before we started viewing is the first dinner (that we see). Older is really trying to push liquor on Younger, and Younger is very resistant to drinking. To the point that Younger pours the liquor down the sink and gets some water. The water is a big clue. It is already fucked up.

It’s at that point, the first dinner, the audience sees that something dead is in the water tank. And it’s still unclear which of the men is responsible.

Later, we see Younger look into the water tank and see a dead bird. Not a man, a bird. It’s the evidence the audience needed for why the water is fucked up. Older, told us earlier birds represent the souls of dead sailors. And Younger didn’t see a man, he saw a bird. That let’s us know that Younger is not in reality. He has separated murdering a man in his mind. Which is why, when confronted with reality, Younger’s first instinct is to grab the nearest bird and kill it–horribly. He is “killing” the knowledge of what he’s done. Younger has killed the man (in his alternate reality seen as a bird) in the tank.

This is enforced in an earlier scene. Younger is going about his chores and a bird blocks his way, and squawks accusatorily. That scene is telling the audience, “Remember the fucked up water, which we learned was caused by a dead body in the water tank? Well, the spirit of the dead sailor (the birds) is saying which man in the lighthouse did it–Younger.”

The Audience is seeing things from Younger’s (altered) perspective

Hints of the timeline are also given away by flashes of Older’s dialogue. He tells events that we as the audience just saw for ourselves, differently. The very first time that the viewer understands the food got wet and supplies are short (when Younger “found out”), Older says, “I told you to ration 3 weeks ago, but you wouldn’t.” At the time, the audience thinks Older is gaslighting, but it’s actually the true timeline. The movie is reminding us that we are only seeing things as Younger is seeing them, and also we were dropped in to watch after events had already started.

The work is also this way. We see Younger toiling, doing hard physical labor every second of every day. Yet, Older sees the floor is dirty and tells Younger to clean it. Yet again, the audience is led to believe that Older is picking on Younger, taking pleasure in making him do menial tasks. And Younger says, “I already swept and mopped it twice!” But Older sees the floor is dirty, and says (this is important), “You never take accountability.” This tells the viewer why we’re seeing this alternate reality.

And this split from reality is shown again when Younger “finds” the head in the crab (lobster) trap/pot [whatever it was, I don’t remember exactly]. Same as when he opened the water tank to find a dead bird, Younger acts shocked. He has divorced his actions from his thoughts/perspective because he does not take accountability for his actions. But we know already that Younger has killed someone (the birds told us) and put their body in the water tank.

The Drinking Shows the battle between id and ego

Other analysts felt the film was Jungien, with Ego being Older and Id being Younger. The Ego/Older drinks and farts. The Id/Younger is a teetotaler and toils. And it really becomes clear this was an inspiration to the author with the drinking. Remember how Younger was very resistant to it at first, and Older was pushing it on him? Younger acted very repressed in his abstinence. It shows that Younger fabricated Older in his mind as a scape goat for some bad base desires.

Once there’s the calm before the storm, Older finally convinces Younger to drink. It seems once this demon is released, Younger really embraces getting enumbriated. Then they get drunk again and again throughout the rest of the film. And instead of food cached in the dirt, it’s more liquor. And they are so hedonistic that they drink Karosene for the ethanol.

Older is a figment of Younger’s split from reality

Probably the most enlightening scene in the movie is the one where both Older and Younger are drunk. Younger says his name is actually also Tom. Older has previously said his actual name is Thomas Wake (he goes by Wake). The two men have the same name.

We know a primary characteristic of Older is his messed up leg. And he tells several variations of how the leg came to be that way. Then, we are also shown when Younger falls off the scaffold while white-washing the light house and hurts his leg. And a bird pecks at the leg.

When Younger is drunk, both he and Older have this weird exchange where they say, “What?” “What” They say it over and over, sort of mirroring thoughts. I think it’s supposed to be a clue that Older and Younger are the same.

Older’s dialog sounds like poetry. It’s another clue for the audience. Younger has constructed this figment who talks like a book character, Moby Dick? And he has all the power in their relationship, and at the lighthouse. And a big part of Moby Dick is the symbolic struggle for power. Same here.

Impossible desire to overcome nature, gain enlightenment

Aside from telling the viewer that these are not two separate people, this Ahab-like character, of Older, shows the struggle between man and nature, power, and knowledge.

The light is a symbol of forbidden knowledge, enlightenment and pleasure. Older has sole access to it, which peeves Younger. Younger is not a fan of authority. Younger wants his turn, sneaks in to see masturbatory light/sea creature action, considers killing Older to gain entry, and eventually begs for access.

The mermaid figurine and the human-like mermaid show Younger’s desire to “conquer” nature and achieve the pleasure of that knowledge and power. He uses the figure to masturbate, but toward the end of the movie it doesn’t work–he’s left frustrated. He has sexual fantasies of the woman-like mermaid also. But again, he is unable to copulate because her anatomy is fishy. He’s trying to dominate nature, and his failure symbolizes that man can never truly conquer nature.

The waves and the weather of course symbolize the struggle of man vs. nature and a power dynamic man must submit to. Notice just as soon as Younger kills the bird, the weather vain points North. Everything goes awry after this (to the audience).

Escape or rescue from the isolated lighthouse island is also thwarted by nature. The waves are unruly.

The action before the movie started

So who’s in the water tank? Late in the movie, a notebook washes up in the disheveled, water-logged lighthouse living quarters. It has notes about Younger’s poor work performance and indicates the boss does not want to pay him. The audience assumes this boss is Older. And Older is gaslighting and manipulating in order to get Younger to do all the work, then steal his money. But remember, we are seeing everything through Younger’s (altered) perspective.

This book is, I think, the key to the action that happened before the movie started and the audience got to observe. Conversations detail that Younger came to the lighthouse to get away from the logging industry. And Younger tells Older that he has had many jobs, going from one to the next, all his life.

And on another drunken night, Younger “spills his beans” and admits that he left timber because the foreman was killed in an accident. This shows a pattern. WE can assume Younger did not take accountability for his part in this death. And he stole the foreman’s identity (shows deceit). We can understand Younger may hate authority and resent power over him. In his mind, he’s doing excellent work and these authority figures are picking on him. So he kills them, but his mind constructs an alternate reality so he never feels responsible for the murders.

This key unlocks the entire movie. Younger killed his boss at the logging industry, came to the lighthouse and in his mind worked hard, only to be picked on again and his pay withheld. It made him angry and he killed the lighthouse boss.

The severed head, the body in the water tank–is the REAL lighthouse boss. The audience came in after his death so we never met him (alive).

To sum up, MASCULINITY/POWER is the whole theme of the film.

The lighthouse itself is phalic. Younger feels like he’s a housewife submitting to Older’s demands. The pair argue about the cooking (traditionally a female chore). Younger’s masculinity is threatened.

The sexual tension/revulsion between Younger and Older are ever-present when they’re drinking. They dance like lovers, reveal intimate information, and Older lies his head on Younger’s lap. Also, there might be some shadow sex, but maybe I was seeing things… That dynamic, speaks to Younger’s wanting to become one with Older (because deep inside his brain he knows already Older is a part of him). Joining together is therefore attractive because it would rectify such an unnatural mental divergence. But also, Younger can’t take accountability and being one with Older would force him to evaluate his deeds realistically.

The scene where Younger sneaks up to check out what Older is doing in the lighthouse is sexual. Older had already referred to the lighthouse in feminine terms, calling it a woman, and now some weird sexy action is going on. And fish fins are observed, tying the encounter back to the mermaids and the impossible desire to dominate them.

The mermaid masturbation and sex are also about the desire to dominate and the inability to do so. Man cannot dominate over nature. Ahab couldn’t, and trying made him crazy. Same with Younger. He tries to attain this power and sees himself doing masculine tasks, masturbates… But he is still subservient to Older.

Which is why, at the end of the movie, Younger forces Older to bark like a dog and crawl on all fours. Older has emasculated Younger and now must feel the same humiliation, he must pay the price. Then Younger buries Older alive. In burying Older, Younger is burying the truth of his deeds. He is burying the reality of what he’s actually done. This mental split will never be united, Younger is burying the truth forever.

The end references Greek Mythology. I do not have very much knowledge of mythology so this comparison is bare-bones from me, but check out other analysis of this film, because other s thought this was a primary theme of the movie (I don’t). Proteus represents Older, an older prophetic ocean God, or man of the sea as Homer described him. And Prometheus’ (Younger’s) death is foreshadowed. I don’t think the movie fleshes out this theme overall, and it’s not entirely based on mythology, but definitely an inspiration for the author of this screenplay/book/writing.

When Younger does finally get to the light. It’s too much. It overwhelms him and he falls down the stairs where the birds (souls of dead sailors) peck at his body while he’s alive.

Conclusion

I didn’t understand any of this while watching the movie. And the movie was entertaining and spooky and I liked it very much even without knowing quite what happened. So watch it, for sure!

But while I was trying to sleep, my mind was connecting the dots I have laid out here. And this reading makes a lot of sense to me. I think this is the type of movie you don’t understand until the second viewing. I feel like if I watch it now, things would “click” a lot better. I’m going to buy it bc you’d probably notice something new on every viewing.

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