Robert Eggers Says Original ‘Lighthouse’ Pitch Had an Erection, but Studios Didn’t Want NC-17 Movie

The filmmaker initially had a far more sexually graphic vision of "The Lighthouse" in mind.
Willem Dafor, Robert PattinsonThe LighthouseA24
"The Lighthouse"

Robert Eggers’ 2019 buddy movie from hell “The Lighthouse” was a lot. The writer/director’s followup to “The Witch” looks eerily prescient now as a tale of two men — played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe — literally trapped in quarantine, at their wits’ end, verbally and physically sparring in an eponymous lighthouse. But what that already-extreme movie could have also been, according to Eggers in a recent Film Independent-hosted Q&A, was NC-17. The sexual antics are graphic enough in “The Lighthouse,” including Pattinson frantically masturbating to a mermaid figurine made out of soap, but Eggers wanted to take it even further.

Eggers recalled being in a “really lucky” situation on the heels of “The Witch,” with essentially carte blanche from A24 and New Regency to follow his own strange north star. “They were happy to be in business with me, and they liked the script and certainly thought it was strange but exciting,” said Eggers of his black-and-white two-hander, for which he presented look books that he said mostly matched the final product.

“There wasn’t much of a pitch, really,” he said. “There was convincing to do it on 35mm black-and-white negative, and there was also some full-frontal male nudity, an erection, and they were kind of like, look, it can be black and white and weird and all this stuff, but it can’t be rated NC-17.”

Eggers, who in “The Witch” depicted a scene of a sleepwalking woman breastfeeding a crow during a midnight fit, said he did not put up a fight on the erection front. “I thought that was very fair,” he said. “If you’re going to go make ‘The Lighthouse,’ you’re making something that is hard to describe.”

Eggers spoke with Film Independent about his upcoming Nordic saga “The Northman,” which reunites the director with his “Witch” star Anya Taylor-Joy, and is also set up with New Regency. It’s a massively ambitious project for the two-time director, who’s quarantined in Belfast, where he began prepping the movie in November.

“We’re designing all these worlds, building these villages, we’re making thousands of costumes and props, training the horses the things they’ll need to do, designing the shots of the films,” he said. “There’s a lot more storyboarding. Generally I only storyboard the scenes that have visual effects or animals and stunts, things where all the departments need to be on the same page for it to work out. But this movie there is rarely a scene that isn’t on a boat or doesn’t have a lot of extras. We’re storyboarding most of the film, which is taking a lot of time and we’re continuing to do that now on this hiatus.”

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