The Light Between Oceans
Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander & Rachel Weisz
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
“With the ocean, anything is possible,” says Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), the stoic World War I veteran who takes a job on a remote lighthouse island 100 miles off the coast off Australia in director Derek Cianfrance’s adaptation of Tom Isabel’s 2012 romantic novel.
It sure seems like anything is possible in The Light Between Oceans, in which a sea of happiness and an ocean of tears wash over the characters before it’s over, all because of things brought in by the endless ebb and flow of the tide.
Blissfully alone on the barren island, Tom and his new young wife from the mainland, Isabel (Alicia Vikander), try to start a family. But two wrenching miscarriages leave Isabel an emotional wreck. Then one day, a small open boat washes ashore. In it is a dead young man—and a crying baby girl.
Tom dutifully prepares to telegraph the mainland to report the tragic incident, but Isabel begs him otherwise: She wants to keep the child and raise her as her own. “We haven’t done anything wrong!” she pleads. It’s a sign, a blessing, surely not just a coincidence, she says. Tom reluctantly relents, buries the corpse and pushes the empty dingy back out to sea.
The repercussions of Tom and Isabel’s morally questionable act ripple across the waves when they come home for a visit with their little “Lucy” and meet a grieving woman in the village (Rachel Weisz) whose husband and baby daughter were lost at sea…in a rowboat…at about the same time Tom and Isabel made their joyous discovery on the beach.
How this all comes together, and becomes even more complicated and crushing, is at the heaving melodramatic heart of the story, which goes beyond its soap-opera surface with some deeper, darker themes and things to ponder. Tom’s lighthouse is situated between the warm Indian Ocean and the colder Antarctic waters on an island called Janus Rock, named for the two-faced Roman god of transitions, passages, beginnings and endings. One of the faces of Janus looks to the past, the other looks to the future.
The movie suggests that, like the waters of the great oceans that cover the Earth, all things are connected—past, present and future; grief and happiness; war and peace; life, love, loss and death.
Cianfrance isn’t known for making lite-and-lively movies, as you’ll know if you saw Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines or Cagefighter. There are no real shining rays of sunshine in Oceans, either, but the photography is often sumptuous and sweeping, and Fassbender and Vikander do look cool in vintage 1920s garb. And there are some very strong performances, particularly from Vikander and Weisz, whose character enters late in the plot but becomes essential to the movie’s message about what can happen when righteous anger gives way to forgiveness.
Extreme camera close-ups show faces so tightly on the screen that you can almost taste the salt from their tears. Oh, wait—no, those tears will be your own. Bring a hankie or some tissues to The Light Between Oceans. You might even want a bucket or a mop. These seas can get pretty rough.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine