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The Lighthouse Analysis: VIII. Mythology- Odysseus

27 Aug

There are many references to mythology in The Lighthouse movie. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re themes of the movie, because none of them are carried out in an entire story arc.

The Lighthouse does not follow or retell the Odyssey. There are, however, many references to that text that I will highlight below:

Homer portrayed Odysseus as a man of outstanding wisdom and shrewdness, eloquence, resourcefulnesscourage, and endurance.  In the Odyssey Odysseus has many opportunities to display his talent for ruses and deceptions, but at the same time his courage, loyalty, and magnanimity are constantly attested (3). 

Younger fancies himself hard-working and resourceful. Actually, it’s more than fancies, that’s how he sees himself (though others do not). Younger can’t take this unfair (in his mind) criticism of his work, which clashes with his own self image, and allows the logging foreman to die without intervening. Then he steals his logging foreman’s identity to get a job, which is deceptive. More central to the story, is the fact the whole premise is that Younger is deceiving himself. The fact that Younger is the only one in the lighthouse, yet the audience sees a story of two men, is the primary ruse. Younger, in an effort to evade responsibility for his murderous behavior, separates the side of himself he blames for impulsive, immoral behavior–his Id, or as the audience comes to know him–Older.

Odysseus was deeply involved in the war of Troy since he was one of the commanders of the forces. With his skills in oratory and his smart ideas, he was a critical figure in the victory of the Greeks (4).

This speaks to Younger’s mindset as well. The movie references this characteristic of oratory skills in the dialogue throughout. Older talks in a poetic manner. This is because of Younger’s dreamy, unrealistic, fanciful notions of what a lighthouse wiki is supposed to be like. Since Older is a figment of Younger’s mind, he embodies all those storybook characteristics to a T.

Bear with me on the following formatting here, the mythology description tells each stop of the journey one after another, but I want to make my comparisons to the Lighthouse film after each:

Books VI–XIII describe Odysseus’ wanderings between Troy and Ithaca:

The call-backs to the Odyssy in this movie are not a direct relation to the story, like I said, but there are little things that are similar in Homer’s story and in this film. The fact that Younger has drifted from job to job is similar to Odysseus wandering all around having adventures.

He first comes to the land of the Lotus-Eaters and only with difficulty rescues some of his companions from their lōtos-induced lethargy;

Odysseus’ first stop at the Lotus-eaters talks of lethargy. This is shown in the movie as Younger getting barked at during his logging job for going slowly, and also when he first came to the lighthouse. The bad notes in the logbook about Younger’s lazy work ethic are why he murdered the senior wiki.

he encounters and blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops, a son of Poseidon, escaping from his cave by clinging to the belly of a ram;

Cyclops comes up in the movie with the one-eyed bird and one-eyed decapitated head–possibly a call-back to cyclops with the one eye.

Among other things Poseidon controls the sea and carries a sort of fish spear called a trident (which is an extension of God’s own power (7)). Obviously, the power of the sea is symbolized throughout the Lighthouse movie with the isolation and the waves and the storm. God or ultimate knowledge is also referenced with Older’s dominance of the lighthouse light and the ending where Younger looks into the light and whatever he sees is enthralling, but also too much to handle.

he loses 11 of his 12 ships to the cannibalistic Laistrygones and reaches the island of the enchantress Circe, where he has to rescue some of his companions whom she had turned into swine.

Older destroys the boat toward the end when Younger wants to chance getting struck across rocks in the storm sort of like Odysseus’ larger loss of ships to the cannibals. The Lighthouse does not show cannibalism, but it does show a similar, desperate rationing of food, and last resort consumption of alcohol, than pure ethanol for lack of clean drinking water.

Lastly, swine could also be pictured between Odysseus’ adventure and the Lighthouse looking at the interior condition of the lighthouse deteriorate-they are living like pigs.

Next Odysseus visits the Land of Departed Spirits, where he speaks to the spirit of Agamemnon and learns from the Theban seer Tiresias how he can expiate Poseidon’s wrath.

At first, Younger tries to escape accountability (which can be seen loosely as atonement) for his hand in killing two people. His delusional mind separates the impulsive, more animalistic, Id side of his personality. While he is acting the hypervigilant super-ego side that is overly concerned with social norms. Failing this, and with reality knocking ever louder as the movie progresses, Younger looks to the lighthouse light for divine intervention and knowledge.

The next stop of Odysseus and his crew was the island of the cyclops, Polyphemus. Polyphemus was the son of Poseidon and the nymph Thoosa. He was a one-eyed giant. In Homer’s Odyssey, Polyphemus traps the voyagers in his cave and closes the entrance with a gigantic boulder. To escape from the cave, Odysseus made his men sharpen a spike so that they could attack the cyclops in his single eye. When Polyphemus returned, Odysseus used his superb oratory skills and talked to Polyphemus for long hours while the cyclops drank wine. Polyphemus ended up drunk, and Odysseus’ men used this chance to attack his eye with the spike, thus blinding him (4).

The theme of being trapped is, throughout the movie, emphasized. The first scene showing just how far, and how endless the water is around the lighthouse let’s the audience know any people on the lighthouse are truly alone. And when their relief crew does not show up, it shows the wikis are trapped-there is no way off the island. The storm just emphasizes what we already knew–the men are stuck. Not even the small boat can help them off the island, as it would be crushed on the rocks nearly immediately.

Another similarity to Odysseus, strongly alluded to throughout the movie is the speech. Like Odysseus’ superb speaking skills, Older speaks in poetry. The language is like an old English novel, not a modern day blue collar worker.

Further similarities to this part of Odysseus’ journey are brought up in the movie. The one-eyed bird/one-eyed decapitated head references cyclops pretty directly in The Lighthouse. Some scholars theorize that the cyclopes also symbolizes the sun and solar power. The cyclops Polyphemus was the son of Zeus. And for the ancient Greeks, the sun was the eye of Zeus. Thus the cyclops embodied the power of the sun and the aspect of their god Zeus that was fire and light (9). Now we’re heating up! The Lighthouse itself with it’s bright light (an eye, maybe?) that allows people to live, or if the light goes off-die at sea. It’s very similar to the God Zeus having the power to help people live (with light and fire) or kill people off. Aside from showing the power and divinity in the light both stories are talking about divinity.

Their next stop was the island of Aeolus, the god of the winds (4). AIOLOS (Aeolus) was the divine keeper of the winds and king of the mythical, floating island of Aiolia (Aeolia). He kept the violent Storm-Winds locked safely away inside the cavernous interior of his isle, releasing them only at the command of greatest gods to wreak devastation upon the world (10). Aeolus, master of the winds, wanted to help Odysseus on his journey and gave him a bag which contained all the winds except the West Wind. In other words, only the wind he needed was allowed to blow, while all the winds that would hinder his journey were bagged up. Odysseus’ men did not know what was inside the bag and thought that the god had given Odysseus a great treasure that the king was keeping to himself. They departed the island of the god and sailed until they were in sight of Ithaca. When Odysseus was asleep, his men looked for the bag and opened it just as they were nearing Ithaca’s shores. Unfortunately, the winds were unleashed and took the ships far away from their home. With this, they arrived in the land of the Lastregonyan, a race of cannibal giants that destroyed all their ships but one and killed almost all Odysseus’ men. Only Odysseus’ ship and its crew survived this attack (4).

Aeolus, who is son of Poseidon (God of the sea), gifts Odysseus friendly wind. Due to ignorance and greed, Odysseus’ crew open the bag containing all the unfavorable winds and the ships are taken further from home instead. Then, the group faces cannibal giants that destroy their ships, condemning them to death and further time out at sea for Odysseus. Similarly, in the Lighthouse, Younger kills the senior wiki and hides him in the water tank instead of just listening to his criticisms and tightening up his work ethic. Then, checking the water tank Younger sees the dead, but his delusional mind makes it a bird, rather than the man. When another gull flies toward this scene, threatening to ruin Younger’s delusion with reality, Younger kills the bird violently. It’s an ignorant move because the truth and reality are inevitable–the drinking water is tarnished. In the movie, the same shift in winds that Odysseus and his men go through is spotlighted after an ignorant act. The arrow points North and the isolation on the lighthouse island becomes more sinister. Younger and Older will not be going home any time soon. The giant cannibal in the Lighthouse is Younger’s delusional mind itself, because he is more and more hedonistic and dangerous the longer he is out there.

Odysseus and his remaining men next stopped at the island of the enchantress Circe, who would cause more trouble for the voyagers. Circe offered a feast for the voyagers, but the food and drink she gave them had drugs and turned them into animals. Odysseus was not among the group who attended the feast, and one of the men who escaped, found him and told him what had happened (4).

This part of Odysseus’ journey is shown in the Lighthouse with the drinking, loss of food, and the ethanol. As a direct consequence of Younger’s murder, the food and beverage literally turn the situation untenable. Drinking alcohol, then ethanol turn the men at the lighthouse into animals-their behavior increasingly debaucherous.

As a sidenote, Younger’s delusion turns man into bird so Odysseus is referenced in that way also.

Odysseus then encounters the SirensScylla and Charybdis, [we already talked about sirens, don’t forget] and the Cattle of the Sun. One of Tiresias’ instructions to Odysseus and his men had been to avoid eating eat the sacred cattle of Helios, the sun god. However, after spending a month in Thrinacia due to bad weather and running out of food, his men could not bear it anymore and hunted down the cattle. When the weather cleared, they left the land but Helios was angry at their actions. In revenge for killing his cattle, Helios asks Zeus to punish or he would no longer shine the sun over the world. Zeus complies and makes the ship capsize. Odysseus loses all his men, becoming the only survivor (4).

see source (8).

The Lighthouse strongly asserts the story of the sun-cattle through the plot. Running out of food because Younger didn’t listen. He didn’t listen to the logging foreman before. He didn’t listen to the senior wiki. And he didn’t listen to Older about rationing. Younger refuses to listen and change his behavior like Odysseus’ crew do not listen or mind about eating the sun cattle. And in both stories rules of honor and piety are alluded to. The Gods/divine power are displeased with the hedonistic acts, and both Younger and Odysseus’ crew are doomed afterwards. In both stories divine power takes away the sun/light as punishment. In both stories boats are lost and the sea is harsh.

After the ship capsized, the tides washed Odysseus ashore onto the island of the nymph Calypso. The nymph fell in love with Odysseus and kept him captive for seven years. She offered him immortality and eternal youth, but the king refused her because he wanted to return to Penelope in Ithaca. Years later, Calypso decided to let Odysseus go with a raft. However, the king once again suffered the wrath of Poseidon, who sent a storm that destroyed the raft and left Odysseus in the middle of the sea (4).

Women and sexuality feature strongly in The Lighthouse film. The men both hunger for sexual attention from women, and fear it’s power over them. Older speaks with sadness of a wife at home who couldn’t stand his long absences. The two masturbate, but also can’t conquer the siren/mermaid or the fishy entity around the light of the lighthouse. Even the figurine fails to get Younger off toward the end of the movie. To the men, women are desirable and chaotic, sexy but wild. In that way, women are also compared to nature, which cannot be tamed or mastered. In this setting of powerlessness over the wildness of nature (or on a smaller scale, women) Younger gives himself a type of immortality. As long as his mind separates out the scapegoat Id, he is innocent of any crimes. He may be captive on the lighthouse with his victim, but his mind walled off his action and he is free to pursue power of knowledge through mermaids and the light.

After almost nine years, Odysseus finally leaves Calypso and at last arrives in Ithaca. Odysseus proves his identity—with the aid of Athena—by accomplishing Penelope’s test of stringing and shooting with his old bow. He then, with the help of Telemachus and two slaves, slays Penelope’s suitors. Penelope still does not believe him and gives him one further test. But at last she knows it is he and accepts him as her long-lost husband and the king of Ithaca (3).

Though The Lighthouse does not mirror this plot point in Odysseus’ travels, the movie does center on identity. Through the film there are many questions that are (subliminally) brought up that need considering: Whose perspective are we viewing the plot through? What is identity? Is identity only the sum of all parts (Id + ego+ super-ego) or does each part individually hold up when separated? Is one portion of our identity fully responsible for transgressions while another is completely innocent and pure? Which part of identity has the most power? Knowledge? Divinity? What is real and what is a delusion? And does that matter to the story?

More directly, The Lighthouse has Younger assuming his boss’ identity and using that name. Older goes by a nickname. Toward the end secrets and identities are revealed, which also spells out the fact that these are actually the same person. Tommy and Thomas Wake-both are named Tom. This is the movie taking pains to show the audience what has happened. So we don’t have tests of identity per say, but the whole movie IS the test.

Sources:

1) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Siren-Greek-mythology

2) https://symbolsage.com/sirens-greek-mythology/

3) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Odysseus

4) https://symbolsage.com/odysseus-trojan-war-hero/

5) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Prometheus-Greek-god

6) https://symbolsage.com/prometheus-greek-mythology/

7) https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/Trident_of_Poseidon

8) https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-odyssey/book-12

9) https://www.uniguide.com/cyclopes

10) https://www.theoi.com/Titan/Aiolos.html#:~:text=AIOLOS%20(Aeolus)%20was%

20the%20divine,wreak%20devastation%20upon%20the%20world.