Robert Eggers’s black and white film about two lighthouse keepers in the late 19th century terrorizes the senses for nearly two hours. And while The Lighthouse has been lauded by critics across the board (and currently named Esquire’s best movie of the year), it’s also absolutely bananas. This is in no small part due to Robert Pattinson’s violent treatment of his penis. There is a lesson to be learned. Stick with me.
Early on in the film, Pattinson’s character finds a mermaid figurine in his bed, nestled in a hole about midway down his mattress. He imagines the mermaid throughout the film, fantasizing about her and what she might look like. This eventually leads to the most violent masturbation scene I’ve ever seen. Granted, my mental catalogue of masturbation scenes isn’t exhaustive, but the aggressive nature alone speaks for itself. If the terms “violent” and “masturbation” doesn’t set up an image already, just imagine how you might look for your lost keys, but sexually, and on 4Chan.
That’s not to say a little frustration isn’t warranted because Robert Pattinson’s character is a guy who is on an isolated island with a dude he hates, doing a job he hates. The movie begins with Robert Pattinson’s Winslow joining Willem Dafoe’s Thomas on a New England island to watch after a lighthouse. Very quickly, it becomes obvious that this isn’t a job for everyone. The work is tiring. The food is meager. There’s more booze to drink than water, and the farting, grating character played by Willem Dafoe will make your most entitled Baby Boomer uncle seem like your best friend. In short, this is hell. Surrounded by salt water and birds. All Winslow has to do is survive it without going insane. Good luck with that.
The anger constantly builds to the point that it has to go somewhere, but for this guy, it never seems to go in the right direction—he beats the hell out of a bird, or he physically takes it out on his own penis. It’s bizarre. But, Robert Pattinson’s penis work makes that vibe come to life.
“It’s always nice to do something massive for your opening shot, and I went really massive on the first take,” Pattinson told The New York Times, of the masturbation scene. “It was a 180 from everything we’d done in rehearsal, and I could see [director] Robert [Eggers] a little in shock afterward.” Yeah, agreed. Director Robert Eggers called it “inspiring.” Less agreed, but, fine.
While there’s likely a discussion to have about masculinity or pleasure or the homoeroticism of two men sharing close quarters with no one else around except copious bottles of vodka and a mermaid figurine, the movie—and the masturbation in particular—is sending a message about the dangers of channeling aggression, frustration and anger into sex.
Anger has a way of manifesting itself into something else. A lot of times, that’s a sexual energy utilized to establish some kind of power. Too often that’s rape. In this case, it’s this strange rage jerk, but the thesis is still there: sex is used as a power grab, and every time that happens, there’s always going to be someone who finds themselves on the bottom. In the context of The Lighthouse, that mermaid figurine was nothing more than a fuck object, and I use “fuck” instead of “sex” here because all that frustration from Pattinson’s character wasn’t ever going to lead to sex or making love. This sex scene is hardly sex to begin with, but rather a manifestation of his frustration and the desperation of needing to feel in control of something. It’s his one moment of respite from the madness, even it’s probably a hallucination. To his surprise though, this mermaid isn’t going to offer the power he’s searching for. She’s larger than him and more powerful—she has the sea on her side, after all. She screams in a tone I would describe if I could successfully remove the residual blood from my ear canal. He wanted to fuck something, and in a world where women typically end up being the victim, he fucked the wrong sea lady. And she bit the hell back.
It all leads to a spiral of madness that even Eggers won’t confirm the meaning of, but to put it simply, it ends with Pattinson getting his insides eaten by birds. I’d like to believe that’s his sexualized anger eating him from the inside out. That mermaid might be his fuck object—and a figurine—but she gets the last sea screech. And that anger comes back to haunt him. Unable to displace his anger in sex, he just has to live with it all: the isolation and sexual frustration and Dafoe’s condescension. It drives him mad, to his doom.
To quote Shakespeare (or if you don’t believe in old references, Westworld), “These violent delights have violent ends.” The internet will surely be blanketed with think pieces about The Lighthouse and its confounding storyline for months to come. But the one takeaway I’d like to offer is that angry sex is not good sex, and Robert Pattinson and his inspiring penis performance is trying to warn us—if your jerk off is anger-fueled, using vitriol needed to kill a man with your bare hands, you need to address that. Pronto, before you pay the consequences.