After starting out with theatrical productions, Robert Eggers ventured into the world of cinema and quickly established himself as a creative force to be reckoned with. This perception of his artistic vision was further solidified after the release of his 2019 magnum opus The Lighthouse which was widely cited as one of the best films of the decade.
Starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse is a work that resists the restrictive categorisations of genre but is often described as a hybrid psychological horror film. A modern interpretation of an unfinished story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Lighthouse chronicles the rapid onset of atmospheric psychosis which affects two lighthouse keepers who are isolated from the world on a desolate island.
“My brother said that he was working on a screenplay about a ghost in a lighthouse. I thought that was a great idea,” Eggers explained in an interview where he was asked to walk the readers through some of the principal influences and artistic intentions behind The Lighthouse. According to the director, it was all about constructing an atmosphere that would be terrifying.
Eggers noted that he was focusing on the visual narrative of The Lighthouse instead of the setup or the scriptwriting. He claimed that without the unique visual narrative, The Lighthouse wouldn’t be as acclaimed. Eggers said: “I pictured more or less the first meal with Rob and Willem: not the dialogue and not the setup, but the look and the atmosphere and the smell and the black-and-white 35 millimetre negative and all of that.”
While discussing the influences behind the film, Eggers mentioned an eclectic collection of sources that might surprise the readers. They range from early 20th-century mining films to modern dramas by the Dardenne brothers. Check out the historical figures and cinematic landmarks who inspired Eggers to create The Lighthouse.
5 things that influenced The Lighthouse:
- The writings of Sarah Orne Jewett
- The films of the Dardenne brothers
- Kameradschaft (G. W. Pabst, 1931)
- The nautical films of Jean Grémillon and Jean Epstein
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
Among these influences, Eggers stated that the literary works of Sarah Orne Jewett played a huge role in fashioning the creative vision of The Lighthouse. The director elaborated: “There’s many other sources that we used, but the most helpful in doing the final passes and really adding clarity and specificity and accuracy was the work of Sarah Orne Jewett, who was a Maine-based author who was writing in the period that the film takes place.”
Although Eggers and his team did look at the works of Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, Jewett’s works stood out the most because she transcribed the stories of sailors and farmers in her local dialect within her stories. Eggers explained that the dialect impacted the speech of the actors: “For Rob’s dialect, for example, there’s a vowel sound that’s omitted and he would switch these two words consistently in his dialect. Willem has a few sentences here and there intact from Sarah Orne Jewett.”