In this article we’re covering the ending of the new horror movie The Lighthouse as well as the real-life story that inspired the film.
Throughout this, we’ll be recapping the main events of the movie as well as what the ending truly means and our thoughts on the film.
There will be heavy spoilers here, so if you haven’t had a chance to watch The Lighthouse yet and don’t want to know what happens then I highly recommend that you turn off now now!
With that out the way thank you for clicking this, and make sure you like it, you’ll like it COS I SAID YE WILL!!!! I’m sorry, let’s get into the breakdown.
The Lighthouse Plot Recap
The Lighthouse centers around two characters that have been tasked with manning a lighthouse on a desolate island, located far away from civilization. We watch as both descend into madness and the effects of living in isolation with someone that you come to hate. The movie chronicles the characters going stir crazy and from the off, it’s breathtaking to behold.
Now before we get into the plot fully, we need to discuss the characters themselves in order to fully understand their actions and why they eventually choose to do what they do. First up is Thomas Wake played by Willem Dafoe. Wake is a superstitious, untrusting character that we learn throughout the movie worships the light of the lighthouse on a fanatical level and if anyone is the bad guy in this film, then it’s definitely him. Wake is an established lighthouse keeper that is pretty much the embodiment of the supervisor at work that takes their job far too seriously. Due to his power and status he’s borderline abusive to those beneath him and because of this Ephraim Winslow, who also works the lighthouse really struggles to put up with him.
Ephraim himself is the complete opposite of Wake and instead of believes that the superstition that Wake carries is just a bunch of tall tales. Throughout his light, Ephraim has drifted from job to job, unable to find something that really gets its hooks into him and because of this he finds it difficult to respect his superiors and those around him. Ephraim hates work and due to the sheer boredom that is created by living on a desolate island slowly slips away into fantasies, paranoia, and delusions.
If anyone is the eyes of the viewer then it’s Ephraim and we watch the majority of the movie from his perspective, seeing island life as almost torturous and unforgiving. Slowly Ephraim begins to fantasize about a mermaid as well as a seagull that seems to torment him throughout the film.
The Lighthouse Metaphor
There’s clear allusions to the raven from the Edgar Allan Poe story with the latter bird constantly pestering the character but the real torment for Winslow comes from Wake who has a bipolar relationship with the character.
There’s a real sense of dread and atmosphere to the entire peace but dotted throughout are massive moments of humor that add levity to the horror and slow descent into madness that we watch the characters go through. You really don’t know whether the characters will be at each other’s throats or dancing in each other’s arms and these constant mood swings add tension to the work that really makes it utterly unpredictable.
Winslow VS Wake
Winslow throughout is made to do all of the jobs that Wake doesn’t want to such as painting the side of the lighthouse, taking out human excrement and you can really see the character start to detest Wake, especially when he has ambitions of looking after the light, something that Wake is very protective over. During the movie there are scenes dotted throughout where Wake almost seems sexually attracted to the light and he worships it like a deity, refusing to allow any others to go near it. Due to his inability to gain access to it, Winslow becomes obsessed with it and also the only thing in his way, Wake.
Though Wake seems on the surface to be respectable there’s a far darker side to him and at about the midpoint of the movie, he purposely gets Winslow blind drunk so that they miss their ride home in the morning.
Wake comes across as a very duplicitous character but this darker side is also reflected in Winslow who we discover is actually named Thomas Howard, a man with a that has a bad reputation and has drifted from job to job.
Winslow’s True Identity
Howard stole Winslow’s identity after he may or may not have caused his death during his prior work position and though we don’t ever get confirmation of whether Howard is a killer or not, personally I believe that he is due to the events that happen later in the movie.
This identity reveal drives a massive wedge between the two and the surroundings of the lighthouse really add to their paranoia and distrust. Due to neither really being able to tell what time it is, how long they’ve been there for, how long they have left and who is hiding what, it’s also difficult for audience members to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong and because of this the film becomes a spiral into innerving territory.
Now the thing that really sends their relationship over the edge comes in the finale when Howard discovers that Wake has secretly been keeping records on his insubordination which Howard believes will lead to him being fired for incompetence and therefore not getting paid. Angered by this and the pressure of living together the two come to blows and during the fistfight that has Wake change his appearance several times. For his final trick Wake apparently transform into a man that is half octopus and half-human. This is the sea god Proteus who is the son of Poseidon that possesses shape-shifting abilities and if true, explains how he was able to take the form of Wake, Ephraim, and The Mermaid.
The Lighthouse Ending Explained
Now this could all be in Howard’s mind but whatever the case, it’s clear that he believes it is happening. He leads Wake on the island like a dog, telling him to bark before burying him alive.
The movie from this point really takes on a mystical side to it that has many allusions to Grecian Gods and after Howard manages to kill Wake during a counter attack he finally gains access to the light. Though we never see what Howard learns from this it clearly dismisses him and in the final few moments of the movie we do get some closure on his fate.
In the end we see Howard wake up on the shore with his body and intestines being pecked at by the Seagull that taunted him throughout the movie. This is similar the Grecian character Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods and gifted it to humans. As punishment he was put in bondage and had his intestine’s pecked out every day by birds before they grew back the next day and he was forced to go through the torment again. Similar to Prometheus, Howard wishes to steal the power of the lighthouse for himself and the entire film can be seen as a metaphor for a power struggle between man and God.
Throughout Howard covets the light but is consistently stopped by his ruler, Wake who refuses to share the power. Because Howard disobeys this he is punished similar to Prometheus and due to time on the island becoming an almost abstract concept, Howard may have to go through this every day for eternity.
The Lighthouse: What’s In The Light?
But what is in the light? Well when discussing the ending of the film, Robert Eggers the Director stated the following:
“When you’re looking at that light, you’re communing with something that’s not human, that’s beyond human, that’s eternal.”
So this adds some weight to both character’s obsession with it and why it eventually drove both to the brink of insanity. They both wanted to be part of a never ending aspect of the universe and thus became fixated on it.
However only Wake, the quote unquote God Of The Island had the ability to behold it due to his power and thus Howard was punished to endless torment because of his inability to stick to the rules. We’ve seen this motif in multiple myths over the years whether it be Eve Coveting the Apple in the Garden Of Eden or Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods, whatever the case it reminds us that we should be careful what we wish for because, if we manage to get it, there may be disasterous consequences.
The Lighthouse Real Life Story
But what about the real life inspiration behind the movie? Well I’d be remiss for not mentioning that the film is clearly based on the Flannan Lighthouse Disappearances that happened in December 1900.
This involved the vanishing of three lighthouse keepers who all mysteriously disappeared without a trace. The keepers made up of Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald MacArthur were all positioned on Flannan isle to man the lighthouse but when their relief vessel arrived at the island to pick them up they were nowhere to be seen.
The last log mentioned bad weather conditions and that the lighthouse wasn’t working but there was absolutely no indication of what could have happened or where they may have gone. Though certain parts of the island were damaged, they were noted in the log long before the disappearance and therefore it was not likely to have lead to their vanishing.
It’s one of our biggest unsolved mysteries and to this day there is no clear answer as to what happened. Whilst they did note bad weather there was nothing on record to indicate that any storms had been in the area during the time of their last entry and because of this, there exist several conspiracy theories that range from Alien abductions to Giant Seabirds that carried them away.
The most likely theory is that they were swept out to sea when trying to secure a box but many believe that they turned on one another and had a fight at the cliff edge that lead to them all falling into the sea and drowning.
We may never learn what happened but it’s a fascinating tale that definitely leads to The Lighthouse being so unnerving.
The Lighthouse Review
Well as I’m sure you can guess I found it enthralling and it completely creeped me out at several moments. There really isn’t a likable character here and because of this, you’re left with a film that makes you want to see the main players go through hell.
The film delivers on this and whilst the tension in the movie is at fever pitch for the majority, there are still moments of levity that elevate this above most modern horrors. The Lighthouse is a stylistic masterpiece that due to it’s framing and aesthetic feels akin to older, classic horrors that have stood the test of time, as I’m sure The Lighthouse no doubt will.
This is a classic and from the intro quickly cements itself as one of the best and most unique films of the year. Though it won’t be for everyone due to its tone and atmosphere, the performances here are incredible and it’s a nailbiting movie that will stick with you long after you leave the theatre.
I absolutely loved The Lighthouse and because of that it gets a solid…
Now obviously I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Lighthouse and if you liked it as much as I did. Comment below and let me know your interpretation of the movie!