I learned something about myself in watching the melodrama The Light Between Oceans, and that is that my perspective watching Western movies has changed after watching so many Indian films. I only got a little misty at the very ending. It was meant to tug at my heartstrings, but it didn’t affect me very strongly. (Meanwhile, the friend with me who has an adopted son, cried through most of the second half.) The film is beautifully shot. It’s gorgeous scenery, and I can’t find fault with the excellent acting of Michael Fassbender and Alicia Virkander. It just felt a little flat to me.
Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a veteran of WWI who thinks spending months alone working on an island as the lighthouse keeper sounds wonderful. He’s looking forward to peace and quiet. Just before he leaves for the island of Janus, he meets the vivacious Isabel. Isabel has lost both her brothers to the war, and there’s a quick reference to the lack of available men.
Tom and Isabel write to each other, and after knowing each other hardly at all, decide to get married. The only way she could even visit the Island of Janus is as the wife of the lighthouse keeper. I liked the romance portion at the beginning of the film. Tom is reserved and numb from the war, and Isabel brings joy and life back to Tom.
They arrive at the island after their wedding at night, and her first time seeing the beautiful small stark island is the next morning. I read a really cool way that the director, Derek Cianfrance, captured that initial wonder. He blindfolded Alicia Virkander and so she didn’t see the island herself until she came out of the little house. The awe and amazement at her surroundings is completely real.
Isabel suffers two miscarriages, made all the more difficult in that they are completely alone on the island when they happen. The look on her face when she realizes she’s about to lose the second baby is really wrenching.
Isabel is in deep depression, when Tom spots a boat off the island containing the dead body of a man, and a wailing infant. Isabel convinces Tom to let them keep the baby, and present it to everyone on the mainland as their own.
The melodrama comes when on a visit to the mainland, Tom comes across the mother of the baby. He can’t live with himself that Rachel Weisz thinks her baby died with her husband.
All the actors here were great. Rachel Weisz plays the bereaved mother stricken with grief, and it was nice to see Australian actor Bryan Brown as her father. Veteran Australian actor Jack Thompson also has a nice small role as Tom’s boss.
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Virkander are two Oscar caliber actors who completely give their all to these parts. The acting in this film is top notch, and the cinematography is gorgeous. It’s that the plot is maybe too slight. My friend called it an extended Hallmark card — although it did make her cry. It’s based on a popular book, that I could see would make an excellent book group discussion book. Would you go to live on an island where you’ll be alone with a husband you barely know? Would you keep a baby that isn’t yours the way they did? Who is a real mother — the biological mother, or the mother who has raised a child for 4 years?
I loved the director, Derek Cianfrance‘s first film Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. I haven’t seen his second film, also with Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond the Pines, but he excels at wrenching dramas about characters that feel like real people. I can’t put my finger exactly on why this melodrama, The Light Between Oceans, didn’t completely satisfy me. And again, I wonder if it’s because I’m used to so much more story and wrenching emotions in the Indian melodramas I’ve been watching. But, glancing at the Rotten Tomatoes score and top critics’ views on the film, I’m not alone in my dissatisfaction.
Still, I love both actors, and I loved seeing them literally fall in love on screen. The couple are now together in real life.
Four stars out of five for the stellar acting and beautiful cinematography and score.
Alicia Virkander won the Oscar for The Danish Girl, but run, don’t walk, to see her in the excellent Sci-fi film Ex Machina. Now THAT is a fantastic film.