FILM REVIEW // The Light Between Oceans

Published Sept. 2, 2016 at ZekeFilm.

Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender Shine in a Story of Loss

DIRECTOR: DEREK CIANFRANCE/2016

140672CM01B_Trp_Email_LR.pdf Janus Rock may be a tiny island between two seas, but it holds a most important lighthouse—and a secret.

After fighting in World War I, Tom (Michael Fassbender) finds solace in a quiet life as the new keeper of this lighthouse just off the coast of Australia. After a few trips to the mainland and visits with the spirited Isabel (Alicia Vikander), he returns to the island with a wife and plans to start a family. Fate is not kind to their hopes, though, and they bury as many children as they conceive. Heartbroken and isolated, their tides seem to change when a dinghy washes ashore with a dead man and his infant daughter. Tom’s employers expect him to telegraph about any incidents on the island, but Isabel believes it’s kismet—why else would a child without a parent appear to parents without children? They begin raising the girl as their own and hope no one asks too many questions.

If anyone has questions about whether or not real life couples can keep their chemistry on-screen, look no further than Fassbender and Vikander.

The Light Between Oceans, based on the best-selling novel by M.L. Stedman, is not for everyone. Filled with many extended shots of billowing landscapes and characters crying in sweaters, the storytelling is not efficient. We don’t reach our inciting incident until about a half hour into the film, and then we still have 100 minutes until the conclusion. A television mini series may have served this novel better, as it would have let the story decide if Fassbender and Vikander are true co-leads and better develop the secondary conflicts.

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Yet for all these shortcomings, I can’t stop thinking about this movie. As much as it was too long, I don’t think the more efficient version would have made my chest so tense in the last half hour as I yearned for a resolution. The shorter film would have been one that doesn’t give much room for its characters to grow and its actors to breathe.

If anyone has questions about whether or not real life couples can keep their chemistry on-screen, look no further than Fassbender and Vikander. The two live up to their reputations as strong performers when separated, but they are even lovelier together. (According to some reports, we’re watching them fall in love in this film.) Both are experts in the nuanced glance—a simple flit of the eye or turn of the head can say more than their dialogue. And if Oscar nominations were just based on depictions of grief and loss (some might say they are), let’s call the race now and give Vikander her second consecutive statue.

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The duo are rivaled by another romantic pairing in this film, though: the score and the cinematography. I perked up as soon as I saw composer Alexandre Desplat’s name in the opening credits. I’ve loved his melodies in The Imitation Game, Philomena, and the last two Harry Potter films, and with the pastel photography of Adam Arkapaw, Oceans provides viewers with a sensory connection to a story set almost a century ago and often told with narrated letters.

No, The Light Between Oceans is not flawless, but the film is as every bit emotionally affecting as it means to be. A strong story, even if told imperfectly, stays with you after leaving the theatre, which is why I’m still thinking about it days later.

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