Some people (particularly those who hate melodrama) may scoff at the manipulative nature of The Light Between Oceans, with its sweeping score and dramatic pans of crashing waves and remote landscape; but for fans of a solid romantic drama with a two-kleenex tearjerker quotient, The Light Between Oceans is worth the view.
The movie stars the versatile Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs, X-Men) as Tom Sherbourne, a shell-shocked young veteran of World War One who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. He’s content with the notion of a life of solitude until he meets and falls in love with Isabel (played by the equally-versatile, Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl). Tom and Isabel build a happy life together as the sole inhabitants of Janus but are eager to grow their family. Unfortunately, they suffer a couple of miscarriages and appear destined to not have children. Both are devastated. Isabel’s spirit is broken. And then, one day, a rowboat washes ashore with a dead man and a live baby. Tom wants to do the right thing, log the details of the event, and contact authorities on the mainland. But Isabel convinces him that divine intervention has sent them this baby girl to love and raise as their own. Their decisions come back to haunt them – Tom in particular- when he comes across a woman (Rachel Weisz) on the mainland in mourning for her husband and baby, lost at sea.
The second half of The Light Between Oceans, based on the popular novel by M.L. Stedman, can be quite depressing, even harrowing to watch and the pace is very… deliberate (granted, some would say slow). There are no real villains here; just victims of circumstance trapped in the consequences of the choices they’ve made. The biggest victim is the little girl whose life is suddenly upended as the truth of her family background is revealed.
The film is directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) and could be an early front-runner for Awards season, depending on what hits theaters over the next few months. The music, cinematography, stellar cast, and adapted screenplay scream Oscar bait. But the drama about fate, love, tragedy, and moral dilemmas won’t float everyone’s boat. It’s bound to be somewhat divisive, especially among those who don’t like the genre. It feels a bit like a very heavy Nicholas Sparks-style flick, which will appeal to some folks, while sending other running for the hills (or across the oceans). I didn’t read the book, but I still enjoyed the movie. It’s often heartbreaking to watch, but I found it captivating enough to recommend to the romantic drama crowd.