THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (UK | New Zealand | USA/12A/133mins)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander,
Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson
When Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns to Australia after World War I, he takes a posting as a lighthouse keeper on the remote Janus Island, saying “I’m just looking to get away from things for a little while”. After he marries Isabel Greysmark (Alicia Vikander) the two return to their isolated home with dreams of building a life together. Isabel suffers two miscarriages and is reaching despair when a boat washes ashore carrying a baby girl and a dead man. Seizing the opportunity, the Sherbournes take the baby in as their own, but years later discover that the baby’s mother is alive and has no idea her daughter survived the tragedy that claimed her husband.
THE VERDICT: Based on the book of the same name by M. L. Stedman, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a romantic period drama with a twist, directed by Derek Cianfrance, who previously brought us Blue Valentine and ‘The Place Between the Pines’.
Michael Fassbender leads the cast as the tortured and romantic hero Tom. Keeping the character stoic but with a strong moral compass, Fassbender is strong in the role and has some lovely scenes with the young actresses who play the couple’s adopted daughter at various stages of her life. Alicia Vikander is charming as Isabel, and makes the character’s desperation for a child feel palpable with her performance. Rachel Weisz rounds out the central cast, and does well as a woman who is as lost as her baby is.
As screenwriter, Derek Cianfrance has adapted M.L. Stedman’s script for the big screen, and does well with the first half of the film in terms of pacing and allowing the audience to get to know the characters. The idea that it is the woman who wants to keep a baby that is not hers is one that feels rather familiar and cliché, and Cianfrance does little to shake this notion from the film. The second half of the film, where the mystery and morality tale truly kick in, is surprisingly the slower half, where the characters spend time back and forth between the mainland and the island, and many questions raised are never answered.
As director, Cianfrance tries his best to keep the film moving at a steady pace, but struggles in the second half, leaving the film to get bogged down by the to-ing and fro-ing of the characters. The performances are strong if a little twee, and although this film is designed to be a tearjerker, there is too much skimmed over for ‘The Light Between Oceans’ to be anything but drawn out and meandering. As well as this, the drama is never truly amped up enough for the film to grip the audience, leaving us drifting along with the story and hoping for a pick up in pace. Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is beautiful however, and truly shows off the beauty found at the end of the world.
In all, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is neither as dramatic or emotional as it should be. Vikander, Fassbender and Weisz are strong in their roles, but they are undermined by a soupy storyline and a reliance on saccharine sweetness to carry the story.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    An adaptation of the novel by M.L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans is another finely-judged relationship drama from Derek Cianfrance, who made the heartbreakingly honest Blue Valentine.

    Tom (Michael Fassbender) is a former solider who is still haunted by the ravages of World War I. A quiet man who keeps to himself, he’s looking for somewhere peaceful to live and work. He heads to coast of Western Australia, where he takes up a temporary position as a lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus. On his occasional visits to the shoreline, he catches the eye of Isabel (Alicia Vikander). The two begin a cautious courtship, as a lighthouse keeper can only bring a wife home. So, they marry and all seems well… That is, until Isabel suffers two stillbirths. Heartbroken, Isabel becomes more withdrawn. Then, one day salvation appears in the form of a drifting dinghy, which contains a dead man and a baby who is alive. Tom knows he should report it, but Isabel convinces him to keep the baby as their own. As time passes, the baby becomes the glue that keeps their relationship together. But all of that could change when Tom becomes aware of the child’s true mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz)…

    More cynical minds might dismiss The Light Between Oceans as a heightened soap opera on a grand, artistic scale. Cianfrance has no such pretensions. He’s more interested in showing how critical, life-changing decisions can affect the future course of ordinary lives – whether for better or for worse. It’s a story which is so carefully balanced in its intimacy, tenderness, guilt and depth of feeling that it transcends any attempt to be labelled a soap opera. It’s more of the quality we would expect from a talented director who knows how hopeful, damaging and restorative relationships between men and women can be. Tom and Isabel make for a loving couple, but their judgment is not the best – even if they think they’re doing what’s best for the child.

    Fassbender, as always, is magnificent here. We can see his character’s thought process as he mulls over keeping the baby on the island. He doesn’t even need to speak. It’s all in Fassbender’s eyes as he wrestles with his conscience. Later on, this develops into something further, as the truth slowly but surely eats away at him. A tricky role to pull off, but if anyone can do it, it’s Fassbender. Vikander, now Fassbender’s real-life partner, is also worthy here. Even with her erratic behaviour and troubled mind, she keeps Isabel grounded in reality. The two of them are so natural onscreen that they should do another film together.

    The rocky, wind-swept Australia and New Zealand locations deserve a special mention too, a metaphor for the turbulent events of the film. Cianfrance shoots them with visual style and magic hour light for a grandly romantic view of two people caught in a morally complex dilemma. There’s a strain running throughout the film of the characters just trying to do the right thing. There’s plenty to mull over here as the credits roll over a touching final scene. The Light Between Oceans is a classy, well-acted and beautifully-shot romantic drama bolstered by two superb performances. ****

  • emerb

    “The Light Between Oceans” is the new film from writer-director Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”, “The Place Beyond The Pines”). Adapted from the 2012 bestseller by Australian author ML Stedman, it’s a real weepie, an emotional melodrama and a sweeping period romance. It is primarily set on a remote, uninhabited island on the edge of Western Australia after World War 1 where a lonely lighthouse keeper lives. He wants to get as far away from civilization as possible and enjoy a peaceful existence and time to himself after the horrors of the war.

    We start in 1918, just after World War 1. Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a young Australian ex-serviceman who is psychologically scarred by his experiences of war. He takes a post as a lighthouse keeper on the beautiful, isolated island of Janus Rock, so that he can live quietly and in solitude. Before departing, he is welcomed by the local community on the nearby mainland. When he meets a beautiful young woman, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) he falls in love instantly. They share a mutual and instant connection and she readily agrees to be his wife. They marry, he takes her to Janus Rock and they live in isolated marital bliss for some time. However, they yearn for a family but their
    attempts to have children are not successful. Isabel becomes pregnant twice and, on both occasions, loses the child. The depression and despair sets in and the relationship suffers under the pressure, with Isabel on the verge of a breakdown. Then one day, shortly after the death of their second unborn baby, a miracle occurs when a dinghy washes ashore carrying a dead man and a tiny crying baby girl. Tom feels it’s his duty to do the right thing and report the incident but Isabel convinces him to remain silent, pretend that the baby is theirs and raise it themselves. Tom sees how looking after the baby has cured Isabel and reluctantly agrees to bury the man’s body and pass off the baby as their own. The years pass and they are a happy family of three but during a visit to the mainland, Tom discovers that the lost-at-sea baby was presumed dead and is being mourned by her mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz). Torn between guilt and the love for his wife, Tom makes an honourable decision that leads to his arrest, imprisonment for murder and the wreckage of his marriage. The film explores the consequences of their actions, the bitter struggle between Isabel and Hannah for possession of the child and the many lives that are torn asunder.

    Strong acting really makes this film stand out. We are treated to strong, heartfelt and very credible performances from Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender. They work very well together and there’s a certain pleasure in seeing a real-life couple playing one on screen too. Fassbender is excellent as the reserved Tom, whose war experiences have left him embittered and sorrowful. Behind his stare, you can sense the pain he endured in the past. This contrasts with Vikander’s openness, volatility and spark. She tackles Isabel’s emotional turmoil after two
    miscarriages with admirable skill. The first half of the film concentrates primarily on the relationship between them and there is a powerful chemistry there. As things get more complex, the actors respond well to the dramatic changes that the relationship undergoes. They are matched by a superb Rachel Weisz as the aggrieved widow and mother of the child.

    Make no mistake, “The Light Between Oceans” is unquestionably a sentimental tear jerker but it is an intelligent and memorable one. I found it engrossing and thought provoking. This drama tackles issues of adult responsibility, selfishness, moral obligations, forgiveness and revenge. It poses some interesting questions too – What constitutes a true parent? To what extent is a crime committed when a child’s welfare is at stake and what should the punishment be? How much weight should be given to a young child’s desires on who they consider as their
    parents? The movie doesn’t answer any of these but there is plenty of food for thought. In this film, all of the characters are forced to make decisions and then cope with the aftermath of those decisions. The choices are made out of love (for a partner or for a child) and while they are morally wrong, they are understandable. We find ourselves sympathizing (but not agreeing) with them and in all honesty, would we act any differently in the same position? This film doesn’t shy away from tragedy and sadness (there will be plenty of tissues doing the rounds!) but I loved every minute. It’s a well-made, serious and magnificent drama and easily one of my favourite this year.