The Light Between Oceans

 photo light_between_oceans_zpspo3k7olj.jpg photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgLabor Day weekend is the very last weekend of the summer season. It’s not a desirable date on which to have a movie released. Unfortunately this is the slot onto which The Light Between Oceans was unceremoniously dumped by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures . This being the final DreamWorks film distributed by Disney through its Touchstone label, might have had something to do with that. I can’t say, although I do know that this production deserved a better release date. The adaptation is based on a bestselling novel by author M.L. Stedman, directed by the critically acclaimed Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), and features two white-hot stars of the moment: Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. The drama is admittedly not cutting-edge. It’s proudly old-fashioned. Still, this feature is far superior to the promotion it got.

The Light between Oceans is the kind of grand sentimentality we seldom see anymore. Weepy, dated, hopelessness old fashioned – these may sound like digs but that’s only because most people don’t value such things. As a matter of fact, I do and thus, I mean no disrespect. There is a real need for this type of picture because it so rarely exists in the current cinematic climate. This is a love story – fully realized by a production design with a loving eye for period detail, beautiful cinematography, and a gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat.

But what of the specifics of this saga? Well, that’s where the luster of this highly polished vase of a film does lose a bit of its shine. Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a lighthouse keeper living on Janus Rock, an island off the coast of Western Australia, post World War I. Tom’s job is a lonely task. Luckily he soon makes the acquaintance of one Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). She is a forthright girl who tenaciously pursues Tom. Her sense of purpose is one I haven’t seen in period pieces from women that portray this era. Isabel’s behavior may be anachronistic, but it’s unexpected too and that’s refreshing. They return to Janus Rock as husband and wife to begin their new life as a married couple. Two miscarriages later and we’re already experiencing her deep emotional pangs from the loss of her children. Then one day a small boat washes ashore. Inside they find a baby girl, still very much alive, and the body of her father, presumably, who didn’t survive the journey.

The Light Between Oceans deals with tragedy and ‘what if’ scenarios in a fascinating way that will have you weighing in on the “right thing to do” vs. “what feels right”. The moral quandary is heightened by a series of events that veer dangerously close into melodrama. Yet screenwriter Derek Cianfrance masterfully weaves an ethical dilemma to keep the viewer’s attention enrapt. It’s also acted to perfection by Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, both fresh from recent Academy Awards nominations last year. She won. He didn’t. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the two are amorously involved off screen as well. So yeah, they have chemistry together. That’s pretty important in a love story and a key element as to why this romance works. There are some irksome developments. A frustrating resolution could have easily been averted with a simple conversation or two. But ah, such is life! The real world can be troublesome. The Light Between Oceans has flaws, but it will also make you feel. More often than not, that emotion comes naturally. We need more experiences like that at the cinema.


13 Responses to “The Light Between Oceans”

  1. Well said. I agree this did feel very charming in its old-fashioned grandeur. The performances are fantastic (as if they wouldn’t be!) and the cinematographer sends an envy-inducing postcard from the shores of Australia with those amazing sweeping shots of the ocean. There was a lot to like about this. I felt more strongly that this was a melodramatic film, but that was never a factor big enough to make me not enjoy this. It is totally a movie that makes you feel.


  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I’m surprised you liked this so much. I also thought it was a solid tearjerker. I agree this kind of story rides on the chemistry on the couple and they had it in spades and it looks very pretty (I’m a sucker for anything in or around the ocean)


    • I’m surprised at the mixed reviews. I can appreciate some people just don’t care for romantic films, but this one is so beautifully composed. It’s a hard film to hate.


      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        I kind of understand the mixed reviews with the melodrama and certain things are stretched out like it takes a long time for them to find that baby in the boat but I didnt mind the wait.


  3. Nice review Mark. It’s a little too drab and serious for its own good. However, it does look quite beautiful.


  4. What a great review. I read this book a few years ago and I’ve been looking forward to seeing how the movie fared. I think our selection of movies is definitely lacking in stories like these. I’m definitely going to check it out – it’s a very interesting story with a good moral dilemma!


  5. I think part of the reason why all of us found ourselves so captivated with this film was because it came immediately after such a dismal summer. While it wasn’t a masterpiece , it was certainly better than most of what we’ve gotten over the past few months. I do agree that we all need something a little old-fashioned now and again.


  6. Although I didn’t love The Light Between Oceans, I do agree that it deserved a better release date and better promotion. I found it weepy, dated, and old fashioned as well, but in a negative way. There is fantastic production design and a loving eye for period detail, with beautiful cinematography and an excellent score like you say. I found the film to be way too long and tedious however, skimping on character development in the beginning while dragging other parts out unnecessarily (did we really need to see two miscarriages?). The ethical dilemma at the movie’s core about doing the right thing vs doing what feels right, is an interesting one, yet I just never felt like the movie delved deep enough into these issues to make them as compelling as they could be.


    • I’ll admit the first act of the film is pretty slow. That’s to emphasize the couple’s struggles, so it served a purpose I suppose. As for the rest of the rest of the film, I enjoyed the way it unfolded.


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