The Light Between Oceans tells a very dark and somber story, but Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender’s performances shine through it all.
Date night alert! If you don’t find grasping onto your seat in terror a good time at the movies, then maybe melancholy and tears are more your thing.
Director Derek Cianfrance, who gave us the emotionally charged Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, creates a visually stunning film that takes you to back 100 years just after World War I.
If you’ve seen Cianfrance’s previous work, then you know that the man can sweep you off of your feet with a beautifully told love story, only to rip your heart out in the end like some sort of sick game of cinematic bondage. People love these types of films because they secretly enjoy the pain.
This 1920-set drama is a slow burn of a story based upon the M.L. Stedman novel of the same name. War vet Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), who deals with survivor’s guilt, looks for solitude in a small Australian town. What he ends up finding is a lighthouse job on a deserted island called Janus Rock and a very quick marriage to a young woman named Isabel (Alicia Vikander).
We soon find out that Isabel can’t successfully have babies, but lo and behold a rowboat washes ashore with a dead man’s body and a crying baby. What are the chances? Instead of reporting the incident per lighthouse protocol, Isabel convinces Tom to remain silent so they can keep the baby, whom they name Lucy, and raise as their own.
As a viewer, it’s easy to become sympathetic towards Tom and Isabel’s plight and you get on board with their scheme because you want them to have that happiness or renewed purpose in life. Over the next few years, they create this picture perfect family and everything is right in the world. But you know full well the other shoe has to drop.
On a day trip to town, Tom hears about a local and wealthy woman named Hannah (Rachel Weisz) who had lost her German husband and baby at sea. All the evidence points at Lucy being that lost child, and so Tom and Isabel have to make the most heart-wrenching decision a parent could ever make. Do they tell Hannah that her lost baby, who she named Grace, is still alive, or do they keep her identity secret?
The film shifts to some backstory on Hannah and her husband and you find out about why the baby was lost at sea. Well, to be honest, the reasoning is still a head scratcher but you go along with it. There are two sides of this emotionally charged story and so everything becomes this huge moral dilemma that forces you to take a side.
The film at times walks that line of almost being too melodramatic but as it rolls along it will get its hooks into you and you’ll become emotionally invested. This story is more about character than plot as the director really wants you to feel and understand the character’s motivations and actions. Some cheesy dialogue aside, it’s really the performances of Fassbender and Vikander that save this film from going from meaningful to something soapier.
Fassbender brings a quiet intensity to the role as an emotionally damaged war vet who has to deal with deep anguish and guilt. Vikander, who is becoming one of the best actors on earth, gives another powerhouse performance as she also goes through a gamut of emotions. Florence Clery who plays Lucy-Grace is one of the most adorable and cutest girls you will see on screen. Combine those performances with cuteness, and it’s no wonder the film tugs at your heart strings.
The Light Between Oceans isn’t a perfect film, but through some twists and turns, it will emotionally manipulate you through a whirlwind of feelings and tears; especially if you are a parent. Critics right now are pretty split on this film, but I think that this period piece does have an audience that will appreciate a good love story with a dark undertow.
Giving this a solid 3 out of 5.
Playing at a theatre near you. Rated PG-13 with a runtime of 132 minutes