Robert Eggers has only directed three feature films in his short career as a filmmaker, but he’s 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 fantastical that we’re willing to forgive him for accidentally starting the “elevated horror” discourse. The vernacular horror film took a dagger into the Puritan societies of 17th-century New England, allowing Eggers to demonstrate his disturbingly thorough understanding of the darkness of the human mind as he explored what lies beneath the surface.
She continued to explore themes of isolation and sexual repression with her sophomore film, “The Lighthouse,” which ensured that no one who saw it would ever look at mermaids the same way again. He followed that up with “The Northman,” a historically accurate (and endlessly metallic) Viking epic based on the myth that inspired “Hamlet.”
Eggers’ unflinching work is obviously not for everyone, but it is for those who like it really like him. Although he primarily creates period pieces, he explained that he does so to explore questions about the human condition that are largely ignored by modern society.
“That sounds extremely valuable, but I think it’s hard to do this kind of creative work in a modern secular society because it’s all about your ego and yourself,” Eggers said in a 2022 interview. “And I envy—this is the horrible part—I envy the medieval craftsmen who do the work for God. And it’s a way to… get creative to celebrate something different. And also that you’re censoring yourself because it’s not like me, me, me, me, me, me. So you say, “Oh, I’ve got to push that back, because this altarpiece isn’t supposed to be like that.” For me, any world view where everything around them makes sense is exciting, because we live in such a tiring, lame, commercial culture now.”
Unsurprisingly, Eggers’ 2022 Sight & Sound ballot was filled with unflinching films that take explorations of human nature to their hard-hitting conclusions. But those who have enjoyed Eggers’ work so far will almost certainly appreciate the films that shaped him.
Read on for Eggers’ list of his 10 favorite movies.
“The Passion of Joan of Arc”
Medieval setting? A plot about how the intersection of religious beliefs and oppressive societies can lead to deadly results? Human suffering portrayed with gut-wrenching realism? You’re right that Robert Eggers likes it. Carl Dreyer’s silent masterpiece feels like the kind of film Eggers himself would have made had he directed it in 1928.
Eggers admires FW Murnau’s landmark vampire film so much that he is currently directing the source material himself. Eggers’ reimagined “Nosferatu” recently went into production, starring Bill Skarsgård, Willem Dafoe and Lily-Rose Depp. The fact that Eggers put Murnau’s original film on the Sight & Sound ballot speaks to his deep respect for the story.
Don’t let the title fool you: Andrei Tarkovsky’s episodic film about the eponymous 15th-century Russian painter is nothing more than a biography. At almost every opportunity, Tarkovsky departs from the source material and engages with the painter’s life to share his ideas about art, spirituality, and human existence in the face of political oppression. It’s another moody, philosophical film that, unsurprisingly, is right up Eggers’ alley.
Ingmar Bergman’s psychological drama was voted the 18th best film of all time in the 2022 Sight & Sound poll. It’s not particularly surprising that Eggers included it on the ballot, given its delightfully ambiguous take on identity, obsession, and human psychology, which Eggers often explores. Considering the film follows two women whose relationship takes a dark turn when they’re locked in a remote cabin, it’s easy to draw parallels to Eggers’ own “The Lighthouse.”
“The Elephant Man”
“The Elephant Man” is perhaps the most “normal” film of David Lynch’s career. The famously eccentric director worked within the confines of realism to tell the story of Joseph Merrick’s abuse due to his physical deformities in 19th century England. Although it lacks the surreal elements of Lynch’s later work, its exploration of the evils found in so-called polite society definitely puts it in Eggers’ shoes.
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre”
John Huston’s adventure novel has long been heralded as one of Old Hollywood’s most impressive achievements. The film tells the story of two men who gradually lose their humanity in pursuit of material wealth, and offers a timeless exploration of human nature, which Eggers loves to do. Eggers’ penchant for film will probably have countless cinephiles praying that he’ll try his hand at making a Western one day.
“2001: A Space Odyssey”
Like many Sight & Sound voters, Eggers remains fascinated by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi epic. Kubrick’s attempt to accurately document spaceflight through his meticulous attention to detail likely resonated with Eggers, who is known to be just as diligent about his own research.
Francis Ford Coppola’s widespread Vietnam War saga pushed the author and his crew to the absolute limits during the seemingly cursed 238-day shoot. It’s an experience Eggers can almost certainly relate to after the famously grueling shoot of “The Northman.” In both cases, the challenging production processes resulted in a period battle epic.
“The Seven Samurai”
You could practically fill an entire Sight & Sound ballot with Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epics alone, but “Seven Samurai” is widely considered the Japanese auteur’s masterpiece. Eggers seems to agree with that consensus, as he’s added the film to his 2022 slate. The addition makes sense given Eggers’ well-documented fascination with men going into battle and the endless cruelty the weather can unleash upon them.
Eggers’ Sight & Sound poll illustrated his admiration for epic films whose directors went to unimaginably long lengths to capture historically accurate images. “Fitzcarraldo” certainly fits the bill, as Werner Herzog’s attempt to make a movie about a rubber tycoon who hauled a steamboat up the Amazon hill turned out to be as Sisyphean as he documented. But the brutal filming resulted in one of the greatest adventure films ever made. Hopefully, Eggers’ inclusion of the film on his ballot made up for Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre.”