Good cooking and sanity are both in short supply in The Lighthouse, a mesmerizing psychodrama about two lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in 1890. Young drifter Winslow (Robert Pattinson) clashes constantly with his superior, career navy man, bully, and terrible cook Thomas (Willem Dafoe). A true story loosely underpins writer/director Robert Eggers’s (The Witch) hypnotic and hallucinatory character study of what happens to people in isolated, survival situations.
At first, Winslow and Thomas barely speak but are forced to eat together every night. Thomas maintains the interior of the lighthouse while Winslow does brutal physical work repairing the exterior, battling weather and uncannily aggressive sea birds—according to superstition, the souls of dead sailors. So Winslow is hungry when he sits down to eat. We know we’re in trouble at the first supper. An overhead shot of their plates reveals an unappetizing mélange of not just mystery meat but an entire mystery meal.
Winslow eats but refuses to return Thomas’s toast. Drinking is against the regulations, and Winslow doesn’t want to get in trouble. Thomas, insulted, insists; Winslow toasts with water. After days of drinking alone, Thomas finally orders Winslow to drink with him, “and I won’t take no for an answer!” he says. The men get stinking drunk. After this ice breaker, they warily begin to open up to each other. As the drinking increases, so does the decline from reality.
Alcohol and cabin fever produce arguments that feel like marital spats. When Winslow snaps, he tells Thomas that his food is garbage and screams that he wants “a rare, bloody steak!” But Thomas, proud of his cooking, especially his lobster, is wounded to the core.
The men signed on for this duty for four weeks, but raging storms make it impossible for ships to get to them, and extend their time on the island. Eventually, they have to literally dig into a buried emergency ration cache.
With food in short supply, alcohol becomes their only anchor. Shipshape is a dim memory; external chaos reflects internal insanity. Is one of them going crazy? Both? Is one gaslighting the other? Or is everything a figment of Winslow’s imagination? By the end, life at The Lighthouse looks like that prophetic first meal, with everything—time and identity, reality and fantasy—blurred into a mishmash.
What can you do with a drunken sailor? The birds know.
We know, too—you can start by raising a glass with our Suffering Bastard cocktail. Then, feast on steak and lobster. The other recipes draw on vegetables and legumes with a long larder life—cabbage, potatoes, beans.
The Suffering Bastard
Originally invented as a hangover cure, this concoction of bourbon, gin, and ginger ale will cure whatever ails you. Tailor it to your taste with lime juice.
Perfect Pan-Seared Steaks
Pre-salting and letting the steak sit for around an hour before cooking guarantees juicy meat and a good, crisp sear. Then, for added richness, finish it in a bath of butter. Pro tip: flipping the steaks frequently actually ensures they cook more evenly throughout.
How to Shell and Eat a Whole Lobster
If you’ve got access to a lobster, we’ll show you how to kill, cook, and shuck a lobster. The video above will also ensure you maximize the meat so you never miss a shred of succulent lobster again.
Hasselback Potatoes Gratin
In this gratin, potato slices are baked standing up vertically instead of horizontally, so each slice gets coated with the creamy, cheesy mixture—and crisps individually on top.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
Easy Roasted Cabbage
When we say easy, we mean easy. This cabbage doesn’t have to be sliced, diced, or shredded. Just cut it into a few wedges and drizzle on a bit of olive oil. After a 20-minute bake, you’ve got a sweet, nutty side.
Slow Cooked Boston Baked Beans
Pork and beans have been a navy staple since the mid-nineteenth century. That’s why this recipe, in honor of the New England location of this movie, is straight from Boston, and made with navy beans. The classic combination of molasses and mustard produces a sweet-hot sauce. Cider vinegar makes it sweet-and-sour, too.
Editor's note: This article is part of a new series developed with A24 to celebrate the marriage of food and film during this period of self-isolation.