The Lighthouse Movie Ending Explained (In Detail)

The Lighthouse is an arthouse directed by Robert Eggers, who debuted in 2015 with The Witch.

His second picture is more frank and crazy, but it deserved universal acclaim – a rating of 90% and 83 points on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively.


Late 19th century, off the coast of New England. Former lumberjack – Ephraim Winslow – arrives on a four-week shift as assistant lighthouse keeper. The caretaker is Thomas Wake, a former sailor with a limp and a drinking problem. He uses Ephraim only for hard work, and does not allow him to ascend to his sanctuary – the lantern room. The ex-lumberjack from the bullying of the old man gradually begins to lose his nerves, and he is applied to the bottle. At the same time, an inexplicable devilry begins to happen on a rocky island.

The plot is based on a true story. In 1801, two caretakers named Thomas were stranded on the island due to a storm. One of them died, and the second went mad after his death.

The meaning of the film

When creating the film, the author was inspired by the works of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. This is expressed in the phallic image of the lighthouse, and in the relationship between men. They are an example of the Oedipus complex – dual (sexual) attraction to their parents. Wake is both father and boss to Ephraim. The ambiguous homoerotic connection of the characters is indirectly confirmed by the ending.
Also in the tape there are several points worthy of explanation.

Thomas Howard

During one of the drinking parties, Winslow confesses that his real name is Tom Howard. The name he used before belongs to a sawmill employer. The real Ephraim died through his fault, and he took his name to start life from scratch.

The severed head and the drowned man from Howard’s hallucinations are visions of his previous boss. If before this the young man seemed to be an island of sanity, then this shows the audience that Wake is not the only psychopath in the movie.

Letting off gases

The picture positions itself as a mystical thriller, but it also has a place for humor. This is expressed in the constant deterioration of the air by the old man. Such behavior makes the ex-lumberjack much stronger than the daily routine, and becomes one of the reasons for the aggravated madness.

According to the director, this was done to give a less tense atmosphere. He wanted to present the suffering of the protagonists in a more comedic way.


At the end of the film, Howard finds an older colleague’s journal. It records all his mistakes and misdeeds, because of which he can be deprived of his salary. This leads to a fight between them.

During the battle, Pattinson’s hero sees different guises in Wake:

  • the mermaid who flashed through the hallucinations of the former lumberjack;
  • the deity Proteus is the son of Poseidon, who has the ability to reincarnate;
  • the dead employer whose images he had imagined before.

This may indicate the developing madness of the assistant, or the mystical nature of Wake himself.

After defeating the old man, he goes up to the lamp on the second floor. The young lumberjack looks at her light and finally goes crazy. What he saw remained undisclosed to the audience.

In the last scene, a naked assistant lies on the rocks and is eaten by seagulls. This may refer to ancient Greek lore in which Prometheus stole fire from the gods. His punishment was the daily eating of the liver by a crow. Here, Howard stole his light from its rightful owner, and was subjected to similar torture.

In general, the events of the film do not have an unambiguous explanation and can be interpreted in different ways.


It is difficult to sympathize with the main characters, they only cause disgust. Dafoe and Pattinson had to dive into atypical roles and demonstrate the versatility of their acting skills.


Participation in the tape completely washed away the image of a cute vampire from “Twilight” from Pattinson. Throughout the movie, his movie character masturbates, vomits, and is doused with feces. From the beginning to the end of the film, he goes from meek guy to crazy. Robert has less experience, but he is not lost against the background of a more eminent colleague.


The protagonist of William Dafoe is at first glance a typical sailor with a passion for alcohol and for telling tales. At the same time, a psycho lives in him, who is romantically attracted to the lamp, which for him is like a woman. The game shows how Defoe enjoys the role and gives all the best.

There are only two characters in the movie, so the acting game largely determined the success at the box office. William and Robert completely immersed themselves in their characters, delivering some of the most solid performances of their careers.


The Eggers brothers were inspired by:

  • Edgar Alan Poe. Part of the story has absorbed the atmosphere of the author’s books. The writer’s unfinished short story about the lighthouse became the starting point for the plot.
  • Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The director himself admitted that he drew ideas from his books.
  • Ancient Greek mythology. The heroes Tom and Ephraim are Proteus and Prometheus from the legends. These deities never met, but Eggers allowed himself to interfere with the mythology in his own way.

This is a small part of the sources that influenced the film. The brothers took ideas from marine folklore, the novel “Moby Dick”, directorial works by David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, etc.


The film, with a budget of 4 million, earned 17 – for an art house this is a success. The picture was not created for a wide audience, and for many, viewing it will seem like a test. The work of Eggers exposes the dark corners of the human soul, and presents the horror genre in a new sense.

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