FILM REVIEW: THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016) DEREK CIANFRANCE
I’m writing this from a deck overlooking a roiling wind-driven sea under the influence of hurricane Hermine which is producing impressive gale force winds. This is the overriding mood of the romantic melodrama The Light Between Oceans based on the book by M.L. Stedman which takes place in 1918 in a small windswept community on an island off the coast of Australia. Into this remote and starkly beautiful setting arrives the broody Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbinder) just back from the war and severely shattered by the experience. He has come to be temporary keeper of the lighthouse on the even more isolated windswept island called Janus Rock.
He catches a a glimpse of a young beautiful girl standing on a rocky jetty gazing out to the sea and they exchange admiring and curious glances. There are very few like them in this sparsely populatedvillage. Their next encounter is some time later when Tom has his first visit to the mainland after a lengthy period of being alone in the lighthouse. He has been invited to the home of one of the prominent townspeople whose daughter is that girl, Isabel (Alicia Vikander). In contrast to Tom, who is world-weary, cynical and fairly despondent about life and its possibilities, the high-spirited Isabel, who knows nothing about the wider world, is bursting with curiosity and joie de vivre and latches onto Tom like a drowning woman. Simultaneously, her openness and innocent optimism start to breathe fresh life back into the handsome man of sorrows. Before long they fall in love, get married and she joins him to live on Janus Rock.
Incredibly, they seem to thrive and create a happy and intensely loving life on the lonely island. And when Isabel becomes pregnant, they seem to want for nothing. However, after Isabel loses the first baby and then a second she becomes deeply depressed. Then, miraculously, during a terrible storm a dinghy is washed up onto the beach carrying a dead man and a living infant. To the grieving Isabel, this is a heaven sent gift. Tom, being a more rational and responsible person, knows that it is his sworn duty to report this incident. But, the entreaties of the woman he loves, who is in such grave distress, convince him reluctantly to a dereliction of duty which will have near-fatal consequences.
The drama which animates the rest of the story is that of Tom’s inner conflict regarding his conscience and his desire for the happiness of his wife, and his actions which put into motion a heart-wrenching confrontation between those who deeply love the magical child, who has been buffeted by fate. As you can tell, this has all of the ingredients of old-fashioned melodrama including heightened emotions, operatic plotting, treachery, revenge, deep sorrow and ultimately, redemption. If you like this sort of story this one’s for you. At more than 2 hours, I found it way too long. The acting is first rate, the setting is ravishing and the cinematography is gorgeous. Somehow the elements necessary to rise above the level of a big screen tear-jerker did not come together and it felt beautiful but shallow. At more than 2 hours, I found it way too long which is regrettable. I had higher hopes.