A film about a romance, a tragedy, and the consequences that come with it- seems cliché, dry; but it is not what the surface shows that makes “The Light Between Oceans” (based off the novel of the same name by M.L Stedman) unique, it is what underlies within the subtleties of the film.
The film begins with inviting the audience into the life of Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a World War I veteran who is seeking solace away from any commotion “normal life” brings. He finds this in a temporary job offer: for him to man a lighthouse on an island in Australia. Despite the warnings from his hirers of a single man going to live so isolated, Sherbourne decides it is just what he needs.
After three months, he learns that the permanent keeper of the lighthouse will not be returning and Sherbourne is offered a three year contract for the job. He accepts, but before casting off to take his post again, he takes interest in his boss’ daughter, Isabel (Alicia Vikander). Soon after a period of writing between the mainland and the lighthouse, the two wed and the Sherbourne’s embark on their journey together.
The two, however, face tragedy when both of their attempts at a child are fraught with tragedy and death. Miraculously, right after the loss of the second child, a rowboat washes ashore the island, carrying a dead man’s body and a very much alive infant. Isabel convinces Tom that they would be doing the child a great favor if they were to raise her as their own. So they do.
However, many years later on a visit to the mainland, Tom encounters a woman (Rachel Weisz) mourning the loss of two of her loved ones, which sets the movie’s course on a whole new spin.
Yet, the film doesn’t reach this point until halfway through. The first half is spent learning and feeling for a family who struggles with the idea of never having children, and the last half is spent watching how their seemingly happy ending could possibly unfold.
The movie calls for intense emotional scenes from each of the main actors. Fassbender presents Tom with stoicism and quiet confidence. The relationship between Fassbender and Vikander, as Tom and Isabel, seems awkward at first- perfectly playing on the characters’ personalities as reverse of each other. They each bounce their performances off of each other with a spectrum of emotions, allowing room to breathe when the role called for it and allowing no room to breathe at all when it was emotionally necessary.
Derek Cianfrance has a tendency to mesh actors together that can play off each other’s brutality in the roles well, evident in his earlier films “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines.” What “The Light Between Oceans” lacked from his previous films was his spatial awareness. Cianfrance at points rushes the story, not allowing emotion to come naturally. However, the actors don’t seem to show this as much as the filming does.
The cinematography of the film mostly flourishes due to the score composed by Alexandre Desplat, who skillfully pulls the audience into the story, like the tide, with its focal point being the relationships between family, man and woman, and human and nature.
The film succeeds in gripping the parts of human emotion that hurt the most, but mostly due to the actors’ skilled performances, rather than the filmography itself. “The Light Between Oceans” is emotional and wrecks the idea of it being cliché and overdone. That is, if you look hard enough.
Dreamworks’ “The Light Between Oceans” is out now in theaters. Go to fandango.com to purchase tickets.