Lost in the Fog

Three years ago I wrote a short story about two lighthouse keepers. Amidst the confines of cramped quarters, one was slowly driving the other mad with his nightly tinkering of the ivories. I called it ‘PIANO MAN’. It was deemed good enough to be published in a literary journal and much to my delight they sent me two complimentary copies in the mail.

I mention this now since unfortunately this is likely the last positive words you’ll read here for the next short while. At present with movies, you see, I’m on what you’d call a roll. More like death spiral, actually.

After enduring the shotgun-to-the-face blast of boredom that was the Mel Gibson/Sean Penn starring THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN (HERE) you would have thought I’d resolved to treat myself a little more kindly.

Some people gotta learn the hard way. It seems one lesson in arthouse lethargy torture just wasn’t enough ’cause the very next weekend I’ve gone and lined up to see the William Dafoe/ Robert Pattinson film THE LIGHTHOUSE.

You want symbolism? Gee, Here’s some… I’m the bull heading full steam in the direction of something I thought was attracting me only to end up running smack bang into an immovable object of cast-iron ‘LIGHTHOUSE’ tedium.

Before things degenerate completely I should point out THE LIGHTHOUSE is currently being hailed, courtesy of a vast chorus of in-the-know voices, as some type of modern day masterpiece. Lovers of surreal avant-garde cinema have declared this a once-in-a-decade treasure of a film.

This type of once-in-a-decade is way too often for me, I’m afraid. 109 excruciating minutes spent with this – if you’ll pardon the expression – white bread yawnage story vomit was enough to send me

My chief gripe with THE LIGHTHOUSE, and films like it, can be summarized in just three words …


Being an arthouse movie, nothing bloody happens naturally in the most stylish of ways! I’m old enough to know by now when I see films bathed in praise like –

  • ‘technically immaculate’
  • ‘an audiovisual feast’
  • ‘haunting’
  • ‘striking’
  • ‘thought provoking’
  • ‘could not possibly look more beautiful’
  • ‘a gorgeous piece of film craft’
  • ‘heavily stylized’

I need to start running in the opposite direction as fast as my feet will carry me…

THE LIGHTHOUSE tells the story (and I use the term ‘story’ like a toddler uses a cigarette lighter… that is to say ‘recklessly’) of two early twentieth century lighthouse keepers who are ensconced in the claustrophobic confines of a lighthouse situated on a remote uninhabited island.

If living with your boss is not your idea of a good time spare a thought for Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). He’s put up with the dirty moods, foul cooking and dictatorial ways of senior lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (William Dafoe) for four long weeks, only to learn a raging storm has caused the resupply vessel with his replacement on board to no longer be on its way. The next ship is due in anything up to seven months.

It’s enough to drive anyone crazy, including, unfortunately the viewer. Because what I’ve just outlined, if you get right down to it, is merely a premise for a story. An actual fair-dinkum story story requires the accompanying infinite and intricate twists and turns necessary to take the viewer on the rollercoaster ride they think they’re paying their money to see. There is simply none of that here.

What there is is howling winds, long conversations over meals, drunken dancing, raised voices, creaking floorboards, more drawn out conversations over meals, repetitive dream sequences, blaring foghorns, a depiction of the daily chores and drudgery necessary to keep a coal-powered lighthouse going at the turn of last century, and yes, just what we needed… still more long exchanges over dinner-table meals.

By the end of it my mind was spinning on it’s own gears with boredom

and I was wishing I was some relative of Godzilla so I could do this to the whole agonizing and completely miserable saga…

Then again, when you sit down to a roast chicken dinner you can’t expect the taste of fish. Shot in glossy black and white, THE LIGHTHOUSE is an arthouse film to it’s core. That means, by it’s nature, there is an emphasis on the thoughts and dreams of characters rather than presenting a clear, goal-driven story.

I uphold the nobility of the idea of arthouse movies – what with their elevation of a director’s authorial style and their clawback against Hollywood’s cliches and traditional story telling elements. But I question why the end product has to so often end up being painfully self-serious, miserable to watch and an all-round trying experience.

One American newspaper reviewer of this film observed THE LIGHTHOUSE “has got nothing and lot’s of it” .

My thoughts precisely.

And because two lackluster films in a row have caused a tsunami of negativity to spill forth on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK these past few weeks, movie reviews are now banned from this site until further notice. Let’s see how long that lasts...

Did I say 5th rate? Didn’t quite have the heart to write ‘15th rate fiction’ but, well… here’s my short story, PIANO MAN, from 2018. Incredibly, some nurturing but possibly misguided soul considered it good enough at the time to print publish in their literary magazine. No accounting for taste, right?

Last night, my world turned grey and my face along with it. I know now what happened was no accident. It was, rather, a most deliberate attempt on my life. In its aftermath I have set in motion a scheme to rid myself of this most horrible place and as well the person I have called my roommate these past five months – the treacherous old sea dog known as Captain Drake McNally.

The whole sorry ordeal was sparked some four weeks earlier when the Captain (I have always wondered whether this rank was real or imagined) deigned that we should welcome into our midst no less a fixture than a Steinway grand piano. Given that we were both working as the caretakers of a remote island lighthouse known as Owl’s Head, located some sixty nautical miles off the east coast of Wales, this presented some degree of challenge; most especially to the three intrepid furniture removalists tasked with delivering the polished wooden monstrosity.

The challenge, such as it was, involved lugging the thing up sixty-eight winding, crumbling concrete steps, every one of them encrusted in black scale and sea salt. Once in place, so began my endless nights of being forced to listen to the most awful attempts at music making any pitiful soul has ever had to endure.

After several weeks of this I wondered to myself if the hightop ‘concerts’ were not being done in such quantity and at such irregular times as to constitute an effort to irritate me and hasten my leaving.

Late one afternoon when I could stand no more, I politely asked the ‘Captain’ to take a break from his noise making. This was so I could get some rest in preparation for the coming nightshift. He did not take kindly to such a request. Later that same night, with a storm brewing in the west, I went outside to bolt the boat shed door.

On returning I found the lighthouse door locked. I hammered on it with my fists as waves smashed over the rocks behind me and the waters began to rise. I saved myself from drowning by eventually locating a rope and hoisting it high on to an outside ledge of the tower near the gantry.

I sit here now waiting for the supply ship to come. It is three days overdue. When it arrives I will bid this wretched place farewell, never to return. The painful sound of yet another of the mad Captain’s ‘performances’ of “Chopsticks” echoes down from his upper quarters as I write. Forgive me if I describe it as  like some kind of slow drip strain of syphilis for the ears.

With his fingers thicker than beef sausages, mention must come also it is by no means unusual to overhear the nerve-jangling sound of several keys being struck at once, adding to my torture.  Wax earplugs dull the pain. They and the last bottle of rum is all that sustain me. I pray my deliverance will be soon.

Ps. This short story appeared in the March 2018 edition of BALLOON’S LIT JOURNAL. If you’d like to read it directly from the on-line version of the magazine (because.. well…um…actually, come to think of it I don’t know why anyone would really want to do that – but just in case anyone did) click HERE.

Pss. I’ve long been in amazement at people given to populating their personal blogs with mundane holiday snaps boring-er than dry toast believing they are of interest to anyone outside of themselves and their immediate family.

So before I go ahead and do exactly the same I’ll at least have the courtesy to place a ‘Boring Content’ warning for all to see. Would it be too bold of me to suggest if more people did this the blogosphere would have every chance of transforming into a far more reader-friendly thing of beauty overnight?

The photo above left of Bruny Island Lighthouse was taken on our trip to Tasmania four months ago. I include it here as It’s now the last OFFICIAL pleasant memory of lighthouses I HAVE.

Psss. How’s this for serendipity? The screensaver we have decorating our computer screen showcases a different enshrinably beautiful nature scene every four days. The delish piece of eye-candy that popped up yesterday was this —

22 thoughts on “Lost in the Fog

  1. Let’s discuss this, given as we started to over at the Wolf’s (lovely host that he was to let us). As I had previously mentioned, this was one of the most lavish, gorgeous bad movies I have ever watched. First, the good bits:

    1. It’s visually stunning, the use of grey scale and the silent film style framing are gorgeous.
    2. The sound design is also well thought out, especially when seen in a theater. The steady drone of the horns and cries of the gulls as the water hit shore did a lot to immerse me in the first half of the movie.
    3. Willam Defoe, gives a fully fleshed out and lived in performance.

    So what pushes this into the realm of bad film?

    1. It could not decide what sort of movie it wanted to be. It toyed with myth and the supernatural with the scrimshaw mermaid and the visions that came with her. It swerved a bit into descent into madness territory, before abandoning ship to full on unresolved and unreliable narrator. So many interesting ideas went absolutely nowhere.

    2. Robert Pattinson. He could not keep hold of an accent and by the time he delivered a pitch perfect Tommy Wiseau “I did NAHHHHHT” line reading in the middle of one of his biggest monologues I was past done. I laughed so hard I cried.

    3. In the companion piece to number 1, the constant shifts in structure made the tone vary wildly, weakening the horror and making the comedy wear thin.

    4. In all of this, the director clearly wants you to be keenly aware of all of his carefully chosen references, and how damn highbrow it is, as they are underlined in the cinematic equivalent of 40 point bold. In the true spirit of the so bad its good film, it is deadly earnest in its failed goals. They really thought this was the best thing since sliced bread.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Massively agree with the top 3 good points. Especially the grey scale and the silent film style and that fog horn drone. What a noise!
      I don’t believe I noticed his accent changing and enjoyed the strangeness of the old style dialects. I was pretty engrossed in the story so that might be why I may of missed it. As mentioned below. It’s the beauty of film that we all see different things. The joy or frustration of movies makes for a great hobby.
      All the best MMM…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think I’m one of those people, sad or lucky?, that can get a lot from “nothing bloody happens!”. Which is in big contrast to the films I review, especially the 80’s month crazy. I’m happy with moody lights, searching for meaning and watching the mannerism of a master, like Defoe here and Murray in Lost In Translation. Masters of doing nothing but be themselves and reveal their life stories in their wrinkles and frowns. I can watch nothing and be happy. Have you seen Roma (2018) that would blow your mind LOL… I loved it.. Am I pretentious, probably a tad but hey I watched Tango and Cash last night 🙂

    I enjoyed, as always, your great article. As we’ve pointed out before the beauty of film is we all see it differently. And how wonderful is that. The reason I love this hobby.
    BTW how brilliant you got your great short story published. The thought of 3 removal men turning up and thinking FFS what have we agreed to do? This line is especially ace “like some kind of slow drip strain of syphilis for the ears.”

    I’ll drop my thoughts on the film in a moment. It’s a long comment which I wrote last night so prepare yourself. Plus I add how it should of ended 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. On my tiny little one sentence review I gave this an 8.5/10. As usual, if I can, I go into a film with zero info. In my “wisdom” I’d, haha very wrongly, imagined this had a Wes Anderson style. You know the sort, quaint, quirky and kinda cute! Yes we all laugh at this.
    So why did I think that? It was that superb opening scene. Which I watched right up to when they arrived at the door of the lighthouse. I stopped it and called my daughter. We need to watch this one together I say. Yes I really want to see it she replies. Big smile across my face. She had watched the trailer, I didn’t know that.

    Anyhow that opening 5 mins is perfect. The silhouettes of the keepers on the boat, rocking to and fro. Then walking to their home for the next month. Such a brilliant scene as the old keeps walk past the two new keeps. No one even looks or even acknowledge each other presence. At the door they turn back and watch the boat leave. Starring into the camera with serious faces. Defoe places his pipe upside in his mouth. The black and white print is gorgeous. If it was brightly coloured it could of easy of been a Wes Anderson, hey it’s got Willem Dafoe. This is where that comparison ended.

    Twisting itself into a dark fantasy with an underlying psychological horror edge. However it’s not without it’s comedy. I laughed and smiled throughout. The constant juvenile farts, the five knuckle shuffle, the old sea code of sealing everything with a swig of booze. Ok I haven’t quite drunk turpentine but I’ve been close teehee. I haven’t been drunk enough to “make out” with a crusty sea dog! But I know big drinking and stuck on that god forsaken storm hit island with a complete nutter would see me drinking deep from a bottle.

    I loved all the madness, there’s a mermaid ffs! The fog horn and the crazy ass sea gulls, I know the likes of those fookers! I live by the sea! Dafoe obsessed and besotted by the power and beauty of the unbearable heat and light of the lamp. Drove mad by it’s luring love. Yep driven completely insane by it. Patterson becoming more and more paranoid and also wishing to see, visit, Dafoe’s lady light love. This is a tale of insanity, the madness of man.

    I really enjoyed it, so did my daughter, we chatted about it after. The shadows, the tiny roomed spaces with burning candles or swinging lights. Dafoe has a face full of journey and those eyes are pained and knowledgeable.
    ** Spoiler alert ** (if anyone is reading this, hasn’t seen it and actually read this far!) ….. I (hark at me) would of ended the film like it started. The two keeps, Patterson and Dafoe walking to the boat after their month whilst passing the two new keeps walking in. No greeting or even knowledge of their replacements. Knowing exactly what those two new poor souls will have to go through to pass the time as they save the souls of sea going folk…….

    Liked by 2 people

    • For starters, I am completely complimented by someone who would go to the trouble to write an extended-length outline of their thoughts as a reply to what has been written here. Thank you Mikey!

      You have great recall of details of the film so I’m wondering what your interpretation was on the ending – and when I say the ending I mean the very last frames where the seagulls are shown pecking at the exposed intestines of lighthouse keeper Ephraim Winslow.

      How do you think he ended up in that position on the rocks half alive?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Take it as a thanks for all the support and comments during my own living “Lighthouse” month of January. I just started writing and before I knew it I was at 500 plus words FFS lol… Anyhooo it was a pleasure.

        My interpretation. I’m quite open to the idea that they were in purgatory for their sins. Hence why I would of liked them to have both walked out from their ordeal. Reborn, forgiven maybe? Only to have been replaced by two new keepers that go through the same sort of crazy. That’s how the Lighthouse works!

        Mate that terrifying distorted scream Patterson does was horrific. I think Lynch did something similar in the new series of Twin Peaks. What do I think happened to him! Not sure how he ended up naked but I guess he somehow survived the fall down the stairs and crawled his broken body out to hopefully get the boat home! Only for the seagull curse to catch up with revenging his feathered brother that had been pulverised. Pecking his eye ball out for justice for the bloke he had anciently killed and took his name. Like I say above I went for the purgatory angle. For me, if they both walked out, purged from their sins I’d of been happier with the end. So I’ll probably trick myself into that ending LOL……
        With that I like the thought that you have to go through that kinda hell to keep the souls of the sea safe… I know I’m going off on one. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • This is the standard of response and engagement I’ve come to expect from the Wolfman!
        It is literally a dream come true to have you and a handful of other regular commenters engage to the extent that you all do and actually take me seriously for a brief time. Thank you! Throughout moments of THE LIGHTHOUSE I was reminded of Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS (1963) and it’s underlying humans vs critters theme.

        The following two paragraphs are taken from a LITNOTES analysis of THE BIRDS –

        “The Birds,” a story of great flocks of birds descending into England to attack people, presents human beings in conflict with nature itself. Hitchcock uses the story of a single, rural family—the Hockens, who are trying desperately to fend off the bird attacks—to illustrate humanity’s isolation within the natural world and humankind’s vulnerability to nature’s wrath.

        While the birds are the primary force of the story’s violence, Hitchcock is careful to situate the bird attacks in the context of general hostility from nature. The arrival of unusual numbers of birds coincides with sudden frigid temperatures, rough seas, and strong winds, creating a sense that the birds are part of a broader natural trend. Even before the birds’ attacks begin, Nat imagines that “a message comes to them” with the changing of the seasons, and observes that their aggression is linked to the rise and fall of the tide. He later reasons, “There was some law the birds obeyed, and it had to do with the east wind and the tide.” The birds are also united in their goal; even black-headed gulls, which Nat knows usually attack other birds and as such are typically “kept apart,” appear to be leading a mixed flock. ”

        Liked by 1 person

  4. When it comes to reviewing films that I’ve seen at the cinema, I can only ever remember walking out of one of them in my entire life, so maybe I’m not a harsh enough critic. Or maybe I’m too easily won over by the big screen, quality sound, popcorn-guzzling environment that I find myself in 4-5 times a year.

    Although I will say that I was surprised, given the star-studded cast of these films, particularly the first, that they have received such negative press. It blows my theory that a film will be great just because of the cast right out the window. Even the great ones have done a film that is terrible, in my opinion anyway. Note: the movie I walked out on is called ‘The Mule’ and stars Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper and Laurence Fishburne. All legends to me!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Definitely no fan of Clint when it comes to his directing output (with the exception of AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) and three films he helmed way back in the seventies – PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971) – THE EIGER SANCTION (1975) – and THE GAUNTLET (1977).

    I’ve just read a review of THE MULE (2018) – which I haven’t seen – which observed “So insubstantial it may not actually exist. The Mule is largely a film about Clint Eastwood driving. And driving. And then driving some more, just for good measure.”

    If you substitute the driving for eating meals at a rickety wooden table, that sounds perfectly like THE LIGHTHOUSE to me.


  6. “After enduring the shotgun-to-the-face blast of boredom that was the Mel Gibson/Sean Penn starring THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN….”
    Ooh, harsh! I haven’t seen that one yet. Now I’ll make sure I’m good and drunk before I do…if ever.

    As for The Lighthouse….I’m not sure what the hell I could possibly add here that hasn’t been said already. I, too, thought the black and gray filming was starkly beautiful, I thought both actors did a good job and I didn’t notice Robert’s accent changing suddenly either. I sometimes don’t mind when nothing is really happening in a movie….if it’s done a certain way. But here the “nothing” didn’t meet that bar for me. I don’t know why! But I love Mikey’s love of the movie and his enthusiasm is bright and catching. I know what it’s like to love something that much and he expressed his feelings why very well.

    When I think back to The Witch and liking that movie, it seems just as slow with not much happening and with the weird, hallucinogenic “was that real or was that imagined” scenes and situations, continuing on to an ending that was pretty much just as nebulous as The Lighthouse ending, but…..for some mysterious reason, some trick of the brain, I was satisfied with The Witch but frustrated and confused by The Lighthouse. It seems like the tiniest shift of perspective, almost undetectable, for me at least, separates them, but that teeny, tiny shift has me liking one and not the other. I LIKED the mermaid and I LIKED the screaming into the light but….I don’t know….the images didn’t hold because, maybe, they led nowhere. But things don’t always HAVE to lead somewhere, in my mind, so that’s what’s weird to me, why it didn’t gel for me.

    Fascinating, by the way, the story, Glen, almost paralleling some scenes in this movie! It’s almost like Robert Eggers read it and then came up with this movie! The image of people pulling a grand piano up winding Lighthouse stairs is beyond comprehension. And that was just the tip of the iceberg where the torture began, lol. I really think Eggers is a fan and regular subscriber of Balloons and stole your frickin’ story. LAW SUIT TIME

    PS: Did you like Unforgiven?
    I thought it was a touching movie and the opening and closing with the music and the tree in the distance and the summary of what happened was very poignant…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Oh gosh.
    I am truly blessed to have some of the most intelligent, witty, articulate and mature commenters across the whole of the crazy blogosphere. Thank you Stacey for another five-star contribution.

    The alchemy of movie-making is a likewise fascinating source of wonderment for me as well. Two movies can have the same director, same lead actor even the same script writer with both centered on subjects/scenarios I find inherently interesting yet one hits the mark and the other doesn’t come even close.

    As you put regarding the difference between the two Robert Eggers films, it can just come down to the tinniest shift as to which one connects and which one doesn’t. In the world of plastic surgeons, to strike an unlikely comparison, this can boil down to a difference of mere millimetres and near imperceptibly slight angles.

    Law suit time? That one got a laugh, most especially the thought of me representing myself in a court given the number of times I’ve no doubt breached copyright myself by lifting images off the internet (harmless I say).

    And can you forgive me? I’ll confess to never having seen the Academy Award winning and Clint directed, produced and starring UNFORGIVEN (1992).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Haha. I think everybody’s enjoying it as much as you are, Glen. Thank YOU!
    Yeah, it must be just the tiniest shift….teeny tiny….that makes all the difference. Amazing.
    The brain is a strange, weird organ, and the mind is relentlessly mysterious……

    Hey, go see Unforgiven! I’m fairly confident you will enjoy it. Like 99.9%.


  9. “Two piss tanks get stuck on a piece of rock. A seagull is murdered and their luck goes for a shit” CB liked it.
    I also really liked your take. The Bugs Bunny thing is kinda what CB is like. CB being the bull (I love that particular cartoon). Plus I liked the short story, a little Poe vibe going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: The Last Lighthouse Keeper | Scenic Writers Shack

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