Movie Review: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

Genre(s):  Drama, Romance 

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Running Time: 133mins 

Rating: M

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson.

The Light Between Oceans is based on the 2012 best-selling novel of the same name by Australian author M L Stedman. Set on an isolated island off the coast of West Australia. The movie is directed by Derek Cianfrance (Place Beyond the Pines, Blue Valentine).

The Light Between Oceans follows the story of a couple in the 1920s. Thomas Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). Tom Sherbourne- a World War I veteran who has “seen things” during the war keeps to himself dealing with trauma from the war occasionally staring into space  and has an unequivocal sense of silence- takes a temporary job as a lighthouse keeper in some rocky island off the West Australian coast called “Janus Rock” taking to a life of complete solitude, eventually secures the job on a permanent basis. On a visit to the local harbour town, Tom and Isabel fall in love in what seems like glances across a table and a picnic date that prompts Isabel to ask Tom to take her with him to Janus Rock, Tom replies saying only the lighthouse keeper’s wife is the only other person allowed on Janus Rock. Isabel asks Tom to marry her. Tom returns to the lighthouse and they begin a correspondence through letters. In quick succession, the two marry and Isabel moves from her town to Janus Rock to join her lighthouse keeper husband in romantic isolation. Their attempt at having children become an issue after Isabel has two miscarriages and falls into desperate depression in a period of three years. Weeks supposedly after her second miscarriage and fall into depression again, a rowboat washes up on their shore, carrying a dead man and a crying baby girl in it.  Tom is intent on reporting this discovery but a grieving Isabel convinces him otherwise, saying it isn’t coincidence that a baby is sent their way, stating that they should raise the child as theirs- a decision that obviously has consequences ahead. Tom’s love for his wife pushes aside all logic and reason as he agrees to this- burying the dead man and towing the boat back into the sea.

If you haven’t read the book, you might have hope yet on how Tom and Isabel’s story might play out but it is clear that despair and heartbreak lies ahead.

Just when we all think the couple have gotten their break and have gotten to the good part of their life together, on another visit to the harbour town for their child’s christening, Tom discovers that a woman named Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weiss) lost her husband and baby daughter at sea which causes his pent up guilt to resurface and the moral implications of their decisions weigh heavily on him. 

There after the film falters through series of events played out by Tom’s guilt and efforts to redeem himself, taking full responsibility for his and Isabel’s actions-a jail sentence, a death sentence- which he believes he deserves, a scorned Isabel and a grieving Hannah who demands justice for her husband and child.

Michael Fassbender is an incredible actor that is capable of conveying intense and incredible depths of emotions with just a state.  His character Tom’s intense guilt and nobility in trying to do the right thing by his wife and child curls it’s way round the second half of the movie to a devastating and gripping effect.

Alicia Vikander on the other hand is tasked with a more difficult role of portraying depression, grief, desperation,and sympathy as her character is hell bent on doing the wrong thing for the right reasons but she pulls it off quite effortlessly.

Rachel Weisz does an effortless and heart-wrenching performance of portraying Hannah, a woman who has been wronged and whose tragedy and grief seems far greater than the Sherbournes but the great romance and circumstances around Tom and Isabel moves us to the point of rooting for them even with question of their immoral decisions.

Overall Thoughts:

The Light Between Oceans is not a typical love story of hearts and flowers, kisses and happy ever afters. With the Tom and Isabel becoming deluded on doing the wrong things even though they are for the right reasons.

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, who build up quite an on-screen chemistry are a joy to watch even as they venture into contemporary issues that affect many couples when it comes to the difficulties of having children. The film becomes a statement on human reason and how we need societal structures and set rules to keep us in check. The locations used in the film are absolutely stunning, from the crashing ocean on the jagged rocks to the stark towering cliffs. It’s a shame that within such beauty lies a pretty gloomy story.

The romantic isolation on their island utopia has several downsides that prompts these tragic events and decisions- that spirals into a dizzy melodrama in the end leaving you more sad than smitten. 

Overall, The Light Between Oceans is a surprisingly relatable even for an old-fashioned-period romantic drama film. Happy ending which are usually cliché, doesn’t come to play in this movie but the redemptive ending credits leaves a slightly easier-to-deal-with feeling after the real emotional bombshells have played out.

Overall Rating: 7/10 

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