Another year of cinema has passed, which means it’s time for our second annual Golden Cages awards, the only end-of-the-year awards program featuring everyone’s favorite actor as a screaming statuette! Over the next two weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, we at Flixist will be announcing our winners across seventeen different categories for what we consider the best achievements in film in 2019. Why do we wait so long into the year to do this? Because we can! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the awards.
We’ve pretty clearly established that we’re big fans of The Lighthouse around here at Flixist. For me personally, Robert Eggers’ follow-up to 2015’s The Witch was a huge triumph; I didn’t love his first film, but without a doubt one could see the attention to detail and unique subject matter that could color the career of a great filmmaker. Yet how to pull off something like The Lighthouse, essentially a two-man show of a bottle film, one not particularly short in length and clear in narrative? Call Willem Dafoe.
Thomas Wake is a craggy, bearded lighthouse keeper who would make Melville blush. He farts. He groans. He cooks! He sings and drinks and drinks some more. Robert and co-writer Max Eggers crafted a character worthy of great seafaring literature, but to translate dialogue like “Nor’Easterly wind will come soon a-blowing like Gabriel’s horn,” or “The damp’s gotten the provisions!,” you’re going to need an actor.
Willem Dafoe’s performance in The Lighthouse is a fundamental pillar of the film’s success, his straight-faced doggedness and crotchety disposition both hilarious and desperately true to the late-19th century setting. I find it fascinating when a film can deliver dialogue so antiquated that it might come across as strange or goofy to a 21st century audience, yet delivered with such commitment to the era and given scene that one can’t help but marvel at the audacity. That’s Dafoe, throughout all of The Lighthouse.
Besides the physicality he brings to the role, both in motion and the facial expressions that haunt the moodily-lit black-and-white cinematography, there’s an incredible talent in his delivery of monologues, of which there are many. Wake’s long-winded anecdotes run the gamut from meandering and drunken to cursed and menacing, often switching in the moment without a second’s notice.
In a year with terrific supporting actors, Willem Dafoe’s role in The Lighthouse should stand out in particular. No doubt this was a film crafted by dozens to be realized as excellently as it stands today, but when we’re locked in the theater as an audience, eyes glued to the screen, more likely than not it’s the coastal jargon and slurred ramblings of a mad-eyed Willem Dafoe holding our gaze.