Robert Eggers has established a reputation for making films informed by exacting historical research. In both The Witch and last year’s The Lighthouse, his characters speak in period appropriate English, understand their worlds through alien-seeming psychology, and inhabit places laboriously constructed to recreate centuries-old architecture. In an effort to put all this work to the test, Little White Lies’ Adam Woodward spoke to Chris Foulds, a former lighthouse keeper, about just how true to life Eggers’ latest film really is. In the process, he learned that not only is The Lighthouse mostly accurate in its depiction of the lonely, maddening job, but that it gets one important detail exactly right: Seagulls are, in fact, terrifying, murderous assholes.
Foulds, who was “posted to 32 different locations around Britain” during his quarter century as a lighthouse keeper throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, has a lot of interesting stories about his former career. While recounting how the wild drinking and intense cabin fever from his own experience were replicated in The Lighthouse, Foulds touches on the closest thing the movie has to an outright villain. “I remember the one keeper who came back one day and a gull had drawn blood diving at him,” he says. “Scoured his scalp.”
“Other birds like terns could be nasty, but seagulls would dive-bomb you and crap on you and all sorts,” Foulds continues, before adding that, in a little bit of payback, “we used to collect seagulls’ eggs and make omelettes.”
When it comes to non-bird-related aspects of the film, Foulds praises “the camerawork” recreating “the atmospheric feel of these dingy rooms”; the “brilliant” uniforms; how “silly” things get when keepers “get on to the booze”; and Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s ability to channel “the characteristics and psychology of being a lighthouse keeper, especially the isolation.” He mentions, though, that other parts of the movie don’t reflect his experiences quite as well, like the coal-fired engine in the movie not requiring “three men working shifts” to operate and that “no lighthouse authority would let a station be in such shit order as that” since so many keepers were “ex-seafarers” who are “very tidy, meticulous people.”
Generally, though, Foulds thinks Eggers did a good job replicating a keeper’s lifestyle. Check out the rest of the piece for further details—but be sure not to forget to monitor your surroundings while you’re reading, lest a seagull catch you unawares and swoop down to rip your face up with its talons or poop on your head.
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