The Light Between Oceans





“For the longest time, everything I touched faded away. But your'e so full of life...and that scares me.”- Tom Sherbourne

The visuals and performances in The Light Between Oceans are so good that it's hard not to view it cynically and believe that a movie this crisp must have something that will go wrong, as the quote above says. Although I see the light shining on the flaws in Derek Cianfrance's (Blue Valentine; The Place Beyond the Pines) newest film, I still believe this is a very beautiful film, dealing with complex human emotion. What we ultimately get, is a dramatically heavy story, ripe with color and life, but a story that fails to pull the ship into port. The Light Between Oceans is a very good film, when it should be very great.  

The source material is the M. L. Stedman novel, turned into a film that should not be confused with a Walgreens romance novel- some reviews have compared it to a Nicholas Sparks film, which it certainly is not. It opens with Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returning home to Tasmania from WWI and enlisting to be the keeper of the light house on Janus Rock. Immediately, we see the face of a man worn down from the horrifying traumas of war, looking for a place to find peace or tranquility. In town, the locals invite Tom over for a friendly dinner where he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander, hot off her Oscar winning performance in The Danish Girl). The two share a walk and talk along the cliffs, that hover over a cool blue ocean, and a beautiful golden sunset in the horizon. A series of letters between the two follows, in both a romantic and engaging sequence of affection, using narration mixed with the beautiful visuals of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom). The two fall in love and marry, setting off to the lighthouse in hopes to start their own family.

Cianfrance continues his record of films relating to love, family, faith, and the tragedies that can test the human spirit. The love shared between these two is like a holy experience. It recalls to a film that I loved earlier this year, Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups. When Isabel experiences a pair of miscarriages, projected in two heart wrenching sequences, it's soon after that a small boat washes up along the shore with a dead man and a crying baby aboard. The moral question for Tom and Isabel presents itself as a quagmire. They have found a child, a hole that has been desperately missing from their family dynamic. Isabell knows her answer is to care for the child, whereas Tom feels the conflict of reporting it in his logs and letting local authorities know. They decide to keep the child, naming her Lucy (played by the young and extremely adorable Florence Clery), loving her as their own.

Later, Tom stumbles upon Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), a woman who mourns at the grave of her lost husband and child. This realization allows Cianfrance to not only throw the films plot a twist, but also create a parallel between the love that Tom and Isabel share, and the love that Hannah and her chastised German husband shared with their daughter. Much like he did in The Place Beyond the Pines, Cianfrance likes to remind his audience that the characters we have followed for this long are not alone on an island, but among a sea of people who have troubles and lost just as much as anyone else.

Unfortunately, it is in the end of the second and third acts where the muddling of stories messes with the pace and structure of a film, which felt nearly perfect for two acts. I can't even be nice to the third act. Although it means well, it feels rushed, overstuffed, and clumsy. It's comparative to a fumble at the one after running all the way from the fifty yard line. This seems to be a common trend for Cianfrance, as I had the same issue with Beyond the Pines. Blue Valentine is still his best film today.

Overall, The Light Between Oceans is a beautiful film, even with its flaws. The cinematography has the highest praise from me. This is one that should earn an Oscar nomination at the least, evoking films of David Lean, while capturing the spirit of Malick's work. The performances from all three involved (Fassbender, Vikander, and Weisz) are the tops, capturing the emotional gravity of each situation and never leaving a moment to feel contrived. I will continue to have high regard for Cianfrance as a director. I just hope his next film, will finally bring his capabilities into a shining bright light.

3 Stars

Written by: Leo Brady