The Year That Was: Degree Critical Reflects on 2020

Published December 18, 2020 on Degree Critical.

The end of December typically brings a slew of year-end roundups, “Best of” lists where we reflect on the books, films, art and music that seem to define a year. But since this year was so unlike any other in recent memory, the editors of Degree Critical put a somewhat different question to our writers: What work of art, from any time and across any genre, brought you solace this year? What follows is their far-reaching responses, edited only for clarity, in order to preserve the impressions of this singular moment in time.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Céline Sciamma
The Lighthouse – Robert Eggers

The lockdown was like an eternal Sunday evening. Streets were suddenly street-sized maps with no one on them, like a surreal Jorge Luis Borges story. Clocks stopped ticking, or we stopped listening. Isolation meant safety, uncertainty, comfort, and loneliness as new universes were formed inside small one-bedroom apartments and basement floors, mansions and hotel rooms. Céline Sciamma’s fabulous feature Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) shows a similar micro-universe conceived by a painter and her subject on an isolated shore in Brittany. The viewer lives with them as they look at and inspire each other, develop a special relationship and routine, and fall in love. Robert Eggers’s black-and-white film The Lighthouse (2019), on the other hand, depicts a most different side of isolation: Two lightkeepers arrive on a far-out island off of New England to tend for a lighthouse for a month; but their companionship, loneliness, and confinement in the deserted island turns nightmarish, surreal, and dark. Both these movies are period pieces that capture the essence of solitude in its highest and lowest points that made watching them in a modernized version of isolation an equally real, yet otherworldly experience. As we waited in our secluded quarantine homes, we believed when The Lighthouse’s Thomas Wake raised his glass to toast: “To four weeks.” Did Wake ever make it out of the island? We didn’t.

Read the full compilation here.