Hidden Meaning Behind The Film ‘The Lighthouse’

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is a horror/thriller 2019 film directed by Robert Eggers, and starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. It is a film that holds too much detail at every layer and every shot of it. ‘The Lighthouse’ is not just any horror/thriller movie, it is packed with complex themes and symbolism. Heavily based on classical mythology, it left the audience boggling with infinite questions.


Robert Egger’s experimental film ‘The Lighthouse’ was predominantly appreciated for its thematic element- style as it was shot in a black and white style which created a claustrophobic and intrepid atmosphere. The film’s rich theme, dark plot, and hidden element make it more complicated than it seems at the surface.

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The Lighthouse Explained

Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow

The film begins with Thomas Wake( Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow( Robert Pattinson) taking over a four-week supervision shift at a lighthouse.  Most of the hard manual labor was done by Ephraim under the orders of Thomas.

Meanwhile, Thomas spent most of his time tending the light and wouldn’t allow Ephraim to go near it. Thomas is highly superstitious and cruses Ephraim when he kills the seagull which leads to a series of unfortunate events- like a devastating storm preventing their tender boat from bringing them back to the land of civilization. Also, their rations mysteriously disappeared, allowing them to live off of alcohol and eventually turpentine. 

As days pass why, Ephraim became suspicious of Thomas Wake pocking around for answers to why his partners left. However, their isolation in the lighthouse, lead to their death. As the time on their island increased, the time seemed to lose meaning leading them into madness.


Later Ephraim revealed his real name- Thomas Winslow who was obsessed with the mermaid story from his superiors. Finally, Winslow managed to see what was in the lighthouse, which eventually rewarded him with his death.

Hidden Symbols And Meaning In The Lighthouse

Thomas Wake

Robert Egger smartly incorporated hidden meaning and mythology which elevates The Lighthouse, instead of it being just a stranded story about two sailors. The Lighthouse has a psychological layer as it hinted at Sigmund Freud’s work on psychoanalysis.

Egger portrayed the Oedipal complex in the relationship between Ephraim Winslow and Thomas Wake. As Winslow was eventually driven to kill Thomas, who he witnessed as a father figure. Also, the film incorporates subtle phallic symbols and one among them being the Lighthouse itself.


Also, Eggers cited the work of Carl Jung as a major influence on the movie. Jung was fascinated by the symbols he believed were represented in our collective unconscious which usually related to our deeper and primal desires. For Jung, the phallic symbolism of the lighthouse is directed toward the primal struggle for dominance between Ephraim and Thomas.

Not only psychological themes but The Lighthouse was also inspired by the sailor’s myths and fables along with Greek mythology. Mermaids play a pivotal role in any of the sailor’s myths, but the film introduced us to a siren who deceives the sailors and allures them towards her.

In a particular scene, Ephraim hallucinated Thomas as a sea creature with tentacles, referencing Proteus, the god of prophecies who served Poseidon. This quite makes sense, as Thomas states the darkness will fall upon them when Ephraim killed the seagull.


Also when Ephraim finally saw what was in the lighthouse it led him to his death, being eaten by seagulls. This clearly reflects the myth of Prometheus who stole God’s fire and as punishment eagle ate his liver every day.

The movie also sheds light on the themes of masculinity and man vs nature. The duo sees themselves in between the battle with nature when Ephraim kills the seagull. The idea behind the killing the seagull brings upon bad luck is a nautical superstition inspired by S.T. Coleridge’s 1834 poem The Ancient Mariner’s Rime.

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What Does Ephraim See In The Light?


Since the beginning of the movie, Ephraim was curious about the light that Thomas forbade him from seeing it. The curiosity led to insanity and results in him killing Thomas. Ephraim reached his epiphany when he finally witnessed the light, so powerful that it led him toward his death. While people speculated mermaids secretly lived in that light, Eggers suggested that it is an extension of the Prometheus myth.

The Lighthouse is clearly a modern representation of Prometheus and Protues with Thomas Wake being the latter. And according to Greek mythology Prometheus defy Proteus, and the way Ephraim defies Thomas is by going into the scared lighthouse. He was instantly punished and faced the same fate as Prometheus.

While he looked into the light, Ephraim was thematically viewing the truth, hidden and kept sacred from him the whole time. Just like many other humans rather, he couldn’t handle the enteral knowledge resulting in his death so that the truth will also stay concealed.


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