How 'The Lighthouse' Pulled Off That Mermaid Genitals Scene

If you've seen The Lighthouse, you know it involves a very steamy scene with a mermaid. Here's how they made it feel, uh, real.  

Mom, stop reading now. Also, don't see The Lighthouse, Mom. 

This is such a weird article to write. 

Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse is a strange and amazing tale about two men fighting alcoholism and insanity, while stranded together on a lighthouse in the late 1800s. These seafaring men also had their own specific sea-related sexual fantasies. 

One was all about the Kraken. While Robert Pattinson's character loved mermaids. His character was so into mermaid, that the first shot of the shoot, Pattinson's DAY ONE, was him masturbating to mermaids.

He told The New York Times

"Well, my first shot was this ferocious masturbation scene. It’s always nice to do something massive for your opening shot, and I went really massive on the first take. It was a 180 from everything we’d done in rehearsal, and I could see Robert [Eggers] a little in shock afterward. But I was like, “OK, cool, I didn’t get told to stop, so I’ll keep going in that direction."

Hopefully, they had an intimacy coordinator on set to suss that one out. But masturbating to a sculpture is nothing compared to what else this movie has in store. 

To fulfill the fantasy, Pattinson had to (SPOILER ALERT) have sex with a mermaid. And that's where the real work of movie-making began. 

Using a design based on shark labias (do not Google), Eggers took additional inspiration from shellfish: "We were looking at oysters and shellfish that sort of like looked labial. But the shark vagina had some things about it that look slightly human."

The film's makeup effects team was comprised of Kathy Tse and Adrian Morot. Their job was to build the prosthetic for the mermaid, played by Valeriia Karaman

This couldn't be a Disney's Ariel or Splash mermaid. It had to have parts that made other mermaids. It had to be just real enough that we were not sure if she was a hallucination or a magical part of this island.  

So the two went to work building a workable prosthetic vagina. They even included bladders so that it could move and feel lifelike when it got its close-up in the film. Eggers said they actually had puppeteers operate it when necessary. (Editor's note: 2019, y'all.) Since the movie was in black and white, all of the detail put into it doesn't truly pop on screen. 

Eggers explained, "What appears to be extremely large outer labia are actually pelvic fins that many fish have, but they are sort of splayed out [when horny]."

Good to know. 

Honesty, I truly admire the level of time and detail put into stuff like this. Everything on screen matters when you're trying to build a world. The mermaid sex scenes, while being weird, absorb you into the mental breakdown Pattinson has while being stuck there. 

His obsession and descent into madness are all the more real with the finer details on display. It's like we understand "Yeah, he's that crazy." 

I cannot wait to see what kind of insane things Eggers comes up with next.      

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I think that this is a great case where, by making it seems plausible, it really called into question what we the viewers were seeing, which was great. If it had been a beautiful but anatomically sexless mermaid that you see the character being drawn toward (or even embracing) it would have been easier to say it was just fantasy or hallucination. Going the way they did brought the movie right up there with the best of Cronenberg's fascination and horror with the organic.

November 15, 2019 at 9:40AM

Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics

So the "state of the art" in films now is "Can I shoot a scene with an artificial shark's vagina in it?"

Used to be that even porn films had to have a plot and some semblance of a story line.

November 15, 2019 at 4:07PM, Edited November 15, 4:07PM

Robert W.