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“Why’d ye spill yer beans?” – a review of ‘The Lighthouse’

‘The Lighthouse’ is a manic maelstrom of emotions; as the credits began to roll, I could hear the theatre both catching their breath and laughing in exasperation, everyone taking a moment to assess the distinctly disturbing melodrama we had all just encountered. Robert Eggers has created a chaotic, isolated world – two hours spent immersed inside a dusty, surreal, half-forgotten nightmare. Distinctly disturbing, for two hours, you are also a ‘player’ in Eggers’ game, living alongside the main characters Thomas (Willem Dafoe) and Wilmslow (Pattinson) – trapped in an inescapable psychosis, alone on an island, isolated by a storm and grappling with their mundane new life.

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The tale has an air of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner

There is certainly a timeless feeling to this story, with more than a hint of a Greek tragedy and influences from folk tradition; the first that come to mind are Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, with the idea of nature taking retribution for past deeds and nature being used as a foil to masculinity – both stories use a bird’s presence as a mirror to their declining sanity. The seagull which haunts Winslow literally taps on his window while he sleeps, a seemingly intentional nod to Poe’s Raven ‘rapping on [his] chamber door’.

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In fact, Eggers echoes Coleridge’s use of language in the confusing dialect of Dafoe’s Thomas’. (His sometimes-indistinguishable anecdotes remind me of when I’ve met distant cousins from very rural parts of Ireland who almost need subtitles in the unintelligible nature of their stories.) Certainly, it is in Thomas’ conflicting almost mythological stories and general unbearable nature that begins Winslow’s descent into madness. We see the story largely through Winslow’s eyes, and as an effect of that we see the demands to be cruel and belittling, his stories boring and relentless, and his version of events false. It is left deliciously ambiguous as to how much of the events of the story are truthfully as we see it, or whether we are seeing things through the perspective of an increasingly unstable man.

The narrow aspect ratio is used to great effect; it never feels gimmicky, and both adds to the otherworldly, archaic feel of the story, and frames the story in a way which adds to the sense of entrapment and claustrophobia as the storm closes in.

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The entire film feels like a Gustave Dore etching, carved out of darkness rather than light. Each angle so carefully framed, with chiaroscuro and over-exaggerated facial movement from Pattinson that seems to hark lovingly back to early cinema. The score is unsettling, the darkness is bold in the way it permitted to completely swallow some scenes.

Something has to be said for the screenplay, which slowly unravels as Winslow’s mind does; the film feels dragged out and disorientating at times, but this only adds a connection between the audience and the ‘players’ (as they are credited) – Defoe’s Thomas speaks in a cryptic, mythological way at times, harking to a long bygone era which makes the whole experience feel all the more distanced and nightmarish. The two lead characters have a conflicted relationship, toying with each other’s sanity, withholding and revealing elements of their truths, and in the same way that they can no longer trust how much time has passed and what is true, the audience begins to feel the same way – disorientated, and removed from the outside world. Leaving the cinema, it felt strange to so quickly find myself back in the real world; to see colour after being so completely absorbed by this black and white world.

Just as the characters did, I had no idea of how much time had passed, and it left me itching to see what Eggers will create next.

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I Wrote This Review of ‘The Souvenir’ When I Was Supposed to Be Working

This is a random time to post this review, since I actually saw this film in October, but as soon as I watched it, I found that it really resonated with me, and was on my lunch break at work the next day… and this review sort of poured out of me. In respect to the note form, I’ve left it un-edited, but I may do a full analysis of this film, or explore Joanna Hogg’s work more because a sequel to this film is coming out this year!

My quick scrawlings eventually came to some use

There is a scene at the beginning of this film in which Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) and her new lover Anthony (Tom Burke) go on a date in the Wallace Collection, and become entranced by a painting called ‘The Souvenir’. The Fragonard piece centres around a woman carving the initials of her lover onto a tree. Julie comments, “She looks sad,” to which Anthony responds “I think she looks determined. And very much in love.” In a similar way, this story may be perceived as a tragedy, or, as Hogg has decided to frame it, as a relationship that while sad, shaped her early career and framed her development as an artist.

‘The Souvenir’ is based on Hogg’s own experiences when she was at film school; she is the lover in the act of carving her lover’s name, in remembrance of what once was.

This is a largely a sad story, but time for reflection has clearly opened Hoggs eyes to the complexity of those early relationships where, for good or bad, you devote yourself entirely to one person, and can completely alter the framework of who you are, and how you experience everything.

Julie’s loyalty towards Anthony is inexplicable at times, however it creates a rare narrative of depicting a turbulent relationship without overtly villainising the person opposite our protagonist. His actions are often questionable; however Hogg keeps the camera’s gaze at a distance, refusing to colour the audience’s view of either character. In an age of spoon-fed characters, it is so refreshing to see a character like Julie so unashamedly strong in a very human way. She carries with her a true sense of feminine strength, not through power, but through making her own assertions, and sticking to them. She may make bad decisions at times, but she powers through and finds a better sense of self and artistic fulfilment by f*cking up, but still coming out the other side of it.

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This film is a quietly controlled, visually stunning observation of a moment in Hogg’s life that feels like the Japanese art of kintsugi where they fix broken vases by forging it together with gold: something, once broken, transformed into something beautiful.

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Marriage: A War Story

To look at its synopsis, this film shouldn’t be particularly different from any other relationship drama, but it’s a testament to Noah Baumbach’s
writing that he manages to explore divorce, artistry, and the very nature of love in all its complexities, while creating his most mature, emotionally sophisticated film to date. Approaching the subtle traumas of divorce without unnecessary explosions of drama, the emotional climaxes are treated carefully, conveying a quiet sense of pain and grief which simmers and bubbles throughout, allowing Driver and Johansson to flourish in their roles.

While most buzz will likely revolve around Driver’s performance (and deservedly so), special note must be given to Scarlet Johansson, who, perhaps for the first time since ‘Lost in Translation,’ is finally allowed to play someone other than a robot/spy/action-hero and skilfully draws raw emotion from her own divorce, to allow her talent to shine through in a charming, smart character who you’re allowed to dislike a little bit too.

Baumbach has truly honed his craft with this film, inserting light humorous moments at times, at other times, knowing exactly when to turn up the tension and when more can be communicated by saying nothing at all. As what is meant to be a simple divorce quickly becomes a full on legal battle, it’s the contrast created between loud, shouting courtroom scenes and the silent moments of the aftermath when the characters aim to process the manner in which their lives have unfurled, which packs the most punch.

This film will make you cry a little, laugh a little (Laura Dern’s lawyer is hilarious throughout), and mainly pray to god that you don’t have to go through a divorce anytime soon.

Overall, two main things can be taken from this film:
1) Divorce is exhausting and terrifying,
2) Hollywood needs to stop giving Scarlet Johannson such boring roles.

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I Know What you Did Last ‘Midsommar’ – review

So, there are slow burning films…and then there are Ari Aster films. At two and a half hours, this film traps you in a state of perpetual anticipation; dreading the worst, but without dramatic musical cues to spoon feed your reactions. By the time the credits roll, you find yourself shell-shocked and only just beginning to fully dissect the cinematic journey you’ve experienced.

Simultaneously immersive while keeping you at arms length, this could have easily become a classic folk horror about ignorant Americans not appreciating piety and entering avoidable situations which lead to their demise. As an alternative, it is somehow presented in a way which keeps you wondering if Aster will stick to horror conventions or subvert them – both of which he does, but in interesting ways.

For one, the main male characters are all studying this commune for their anthropology doctorates, creating a veil of a deeper understanding and appreciation which may save them from a classic horror demise; after a scene in which two elders throw themselves onto a rock in an act of suicide, one of the protagonists explain that they are there to experience a culture different to themselves, and must therefore accept everything the commune does, regardless of their own views. Despite their supposed educational superiority to other horror protagonists, they all soon meet their demise in a fairly classic horror style.

Overall, the whole story casts a questioning eye on the secular nature of Western society, through the way the people of the commune interact with each other, in contrast with how the main characters all interact with the character of Dani.

After losing her whole family to a horrific murder-suicide incident, she is left to deal with the grief alone; her boyfriend intended to break up with her before the incident, and stays with Dani out of guilt, with that initial reluctance reflected in the lack of support that he provides. When we return to the couple some time after her family’s death, she is clearly still struggling, running away to isolate herself when regular explosions of grief and anxiety attacks take over. Her boyfriend Christian is a pretty detestable character throughout, presenting weak character traits, and almost as soon as they arrive in Sweden he guilts her into taking drugs which trigger her anxiety. As the story progresses, he continues to act in a distant way which gets progressively worse throughout the film, acting in a flimsy way to both his girlfriend and friends around him.

Despite the extreme traditions of the commune, Dani finds solace in the support network that they provide, and when she witnesses her boyfriend engaging in a mating ritual, she is able to cry openly and as the other women of the commune cry with her she finds herself able to openly share the burder of her grief in a supportive network which she doesn’t have at home.

By the end of the film, she has found solace and comfort, and has discovered a sense of community which she never had in western society, but what message Aster is trying to make with this is never quite clarified. In interviews, Aster has described it as ‘a break-up movie’ and, at its most basic, Dani has broken free from the toxic relationship that she was in, and has been able to express the grief that she felt in a moment of catharsis.