“The Witch,” “The Lighthouse,” and “The Northman” filmmaker revealed the movies he considers the best of all time in his 2022 Sight & Sound ballot.
Robert Eggers has only directed three feature films in his short career as a filmmaker, but he has already developed the kind of instantly-recognizable point-of-view that many artists spend a lifetime cultivating.
Eggers burst onto the scene with 2015’s “The Witch”: a film so awesome that we’re willing to forgive it for inadvertently launching the asinine “elevated horror” discourse. The folk horror film took a scalpel to the Puritanical societies of 17th century New England, allowing Eggers to demonstrate his disturbingly thorough understanding of the darkness in the human mind when he exposed what was beneath the surface.
He continued to explore themes of isolation and sexual repression with his sophomore feature “The Lighthouse,” which ensured that nobody who sees it will ever view mermaids the same way again. He followed that with “The Northman,” his historically accurate (and endlessly metal) Viking epic based on the myth that inspired “Hamlet.”
Eggers’ unflinching work is clearly not for everyone, but those who like him tend to really like him. While he primarily makes period pieces, he has explained that he does so in order to explore issues with the human condition that modern society largely ignores.
“This sounds super uber-precious, but I think it’s hard to do this kind of creative work in a modern secular society because it becomes all about your ego and yourself,” Eggers said in a 2022 interview. “And I am envious — this is the horrible part — I’m envious of medieval craftsmen who are doing the work for God. And that becomes a way to … you get to be creative to celebrate something else. And also, you’re censoring yourself because it’s not about like me, me, me, me, me, me. So you say, ‘Oh, I got to rein that back because that’s not what this altar piece needs to be.’ Any worldview where everything around them is full of meaning is exciting to me, because we live in such a tiresome, lame, commercial culture now.”
Unsurprisingly, Eggers’ 2022 Sight & Sound ballot was filled with unflinching films that take their explorations of human nature to harsh conclusions. But anyone who has enjoyed Eggers’ work thus far will almost certainly appreciate many of the films that shaped him.
Keep reading for Eggers’ list of his 10 favorite movies.
“The Passion of Joan of Arc”
A medieval setting? A plot revolving around the ways that the intersection of religious convictions and oppressive societies can lead to deadly results? Human suffering portrayed through gut wrenching realism? You’re goddamn right that Robert Eggers likes this one. Carl Dreyer’s silent masterpiece seems like the kind of film that Eggers himself would have made if he was directing in 1928.
Eggers has so much admiration for F.W. Murnau’s landmark vampire film that he is currently directing his own take on the source material. Eggers’ reimagined take on “Nosferatu” recently entered production with a cast that includes Bill Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe, and Lily-Rose Depp. The fact that Eggers placed Murnau’s original film on his Sight & Sound ballot speaks to the deep respect he has for the story.
Don’t be fooled by the title: Andrei Tarkovsky’s episodic film about the eponymous 15th century Russian painter is anything but a biopic. Tarkovsky diverges from the source material at nearly every opportunity, riffing on the painter’s life as a way of sharing his ideas about art, spirituality, and existing as a human being in the face of political oppression. It’s another moody, philosophical film that’s unsurprisingly right up Eggers’ alley.
Ingmar Bergman’s psychological drama was voted the 18th greatest film of all time in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll. It’s not particularly surprising that Eggers included it on his ballot, considering that it offers a delightfully ambiguous take on the ideas of identity, obsession, and human psychology that Eggers often explores. Considering that the film follows two women whose relationship takes a dark turn when they’re confined in a remote cabin, it’s easy to draw parallels to Eggers’ own “The Lighthouse.”
“The Elephant Man”
“The Elephant Man” might be the most “normal” movie of David Lynch’s career. The famously eccentric director worked within the confines of realism to tell the story of the abuse that Joseph Merrick endured due to his physical deformities in 19th century England. While it lacks the surreal elements of Lynch’s later works, its exploration of the evils found in so-called polite society puts it firmly in Eggers’ wheelhouse.
“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”
John Huston’s adventure saga has long been heralded as one of Old Hollywood’s most stunning achievements. In telling the story of two men who gradually lose their humanity in the pursuit of material wealth, the film delivers the kind of timeless exploration of human nature that Eggers loves to make. Eggers’ affection for the film will likely prompt countless cinephiles to pray that he tries his hand at making a Western someday.
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
Like many Sight & Sound voters, Eggers continues to be awed by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi epic. Kubrick’s attempt to accurately document space flight through his meticulous attention to detail probably resonated with Eggers, who has been known to be equally diligent with his own research.
Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling Vietnam War saga famously pushed the auteur and his crew to their absolute limits during the seemingly-cursed 238 day shoot. It’s an experience that Eggers can almost certainly relate to after his famously grueling shoot for “The Northman.” In both cases, the challenging production processes resulted in a battle epic for the ages.
“The Seven Samurai”
You could practically fill an entire Sight & Sound ballot with nothing but Akira Kurosawa samurai epics, but “The Seven Samurai” is widely regarded as the Japanese auteur’s masterpiece. Eggers seems to agree with that consensus, as he added the film to his 2022 list. The addition makes sense, considering Eggers’ well-documented fascination with men charging into battle and the endless cruelty that the weather can unleash on them.
Eggers’ Sight & Sound ballot illustrated his clear admiration for epic films whose directors went to unimaginable lengths to capture historically accurate images. “Fitzcarraldo” certainly fits that bill, as Werner Herzog’s attempt to film a movie about a rubber mogul transporting a steamship up a hill in the Amazon ended up being as Sisyphean as the task it was documenting. But the brutal shoot resulted in one of the greatest adventure films ever made. Hopefully Eggers’ inclusion of the film on his ballot made up for the shade he threw at Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre.”