Welcome to the 2019 CIRCUIT CONSIDERATIONS series. Highlighting the very best in film, acting, and technical achievements for the past 12 months that awards voters may need help remembering. Each day a different writer will make their plea for a specific film in a respective category. If you miss one, click the tag “Circuit Considerations 2019,” and if you have some suggestions, include them in the comments below!
Those still remembering Robert Pattinson from the “Twilight” series simply haven’t been paying attention. Since his vampiric days, Pattinson’s collaborations with David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, James Gray, and any director in the A24 stable demonstrate a drive to try new things and expand his talents. This hunger for new acting challenges fully paid off in 2019. Pattinson headlined “High Life” and gave his all to Denis’ singular vision. Additionally, he stole scenes in David Michod’s “The King” as The Dauphen. However, his wildest and most impressive work this year came in Robert Eggers’ sea-faring shanty, “The Lighthouse.”
Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow sails to his post on a mysterious New England island with Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake as the only other inhabitant. From the get-go, Winslow acts as the audience surrogate, transporting us to this black and white hell where you can almost smell and taste the salty air. Pattinson scowls, sulks and reacts with disgust at all of Thomas’ stories and bodily functions. This could so easily be just a reactive role. Yet, Pattinson uses the first twenty minutes to connect and build a relationship with the audience. Once that connection gets made, Pattinson takes us down to the deep, dark depths of Ephraim Winslow’s psyche.
It all begins with a seagull. The pesky birds have been buzzing and squeaking through every waking moment of Winslow’s stay on the island. Winslow snaps. He beats one seagull absolutely senseless against a well, leaving its carcass for the others to feast on. The movie and Pattinson’s performance shifts at this moment. He’s broken and we are as well. From here, Winslow’s fractured mental state only continues to break.
We get many drunken nights between Winslow and Thomas. Over liquor and even kerosene, the two men sing shanties, dance with lead feat and argue like George and Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” One particularly hilarious fight involves Thomas raking Winslow over the coal for criticizing his cooking. However, what develops between the two men is a strange romantic bond that’s palpable and, at times, even kinky. Both men are drawn in and scared by their own attraction. Is it the deprivation of other people? Do they share the same psychosis that helps them understand their sexual desires? Pattinson never answers these questions, as his character Winslow doesn’t have these answers. Yet, he throws caution into the wind and finds the desire behind his character’s repulsion.
The film’s last act doubles down on the character’s lust for what lives in the lighthouse. This almost feels perfunctory, as the movie was more compelling when it subsided on the men’s symbiotic relationship alone on this island. However, Pattinson does the lion’s share of the work selling the plot. He bugs his eyes out, unhinges his jaw and slobbers over the secrets that live in the lighthouse. Pattinson’s terrific physicality draws us in as it repulses us. Even as he masturbates to the beguiling mermaid in his memory and the mysteries of the lighthouse, his contorted posture feels just as painful as it is pleasurable. He ties Winslow up in knots, making him both statuesque, yet hunched.
Overall, Robert Pattinson physically constructs a character from the ground up. He uses his idiosyncratic gifts as an actor to make Winslow both a wayward hunk and grizzled weirdo. It would be fitting to give Robert Pattinson an Oscar nomination for this performance. “The Lighthouse” represents Pattinson shedding his past as a marquee teen star and reaching the apex of this new phase of his career – A24 experimental actor.