“The Light Between Oceans” is based upon M.L. Stedman’s novel of the same name. The screenplay is written by Derek Cianfrance who also directed this long, dull film about a lighthouse keeper and his wife rescuing and keeping a baby they find adrift in a row boat. With a stellar cast of Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz, you have hope that you will be entertained by a spellbinding story and their performances. Unfortunately, the only way you’ll enjoy this film is if you like preposterous stories and cardboard performances.
Tom (Fassbender), a veteran who seems quietly troubled, attends an interview for the position of lighthouse keeper at the home of a local political figure, Bill Graysmark (Garry Macdonald). The enchantingly beautiful daughter, Isabel Graysmark (Vikander) becomes immediately smitten with the rather detached Tom and the two quickly wed. Their happiness is like something out of a fairy tale as they go about their daily routine at the lighthouse in sheer bliss. Until one day, Isabel has a miscarriage. And then another. It is more than she can take and the two seem despondent. That is, until they rescue this baby who has washed ashore in a boat with her dead father. Isabel’s need to be a mother washes away all common sense in both she and Tom, and they keep the baby. Did anyone think about the biological mother and where she might be? Nope. That concept (you know the one, the one where there’s both a father AND a mother) crossed neither of their minds.
Babies, puppies, and kittens. According to this scenario, they’re all the same. As we sail through the lives of this couple in painstakingly slow motion, the consequences of their actions and the guilt they endure comes to a head. It was like watching a typhoon approach the shore, frame by frame, only to realize that you were looking through the lens backwards and it was just a little wave that gently glides over your toes. Perhaps I’m being realistically cynical, but let’s have just an ounce of reality in this story. Or here’s an even better idea. Let’s develop the characters. It was as if Cianfance took the first and last sentences, ok, I’ll be generous and say paragraphs, of each chapter of Stedman’s book and made that one scene. What you end up with is a story devoid of characters you know and if you don’t really know them, it’s tough to care about them. The saving “grace” was little Lucy (Florence Clery and others) who simply melted your heart as a baby and as an adorable and talkative little girl.
Fassbender portrays a quiet soul carrying a lot of baggage. His performance was remarkably flat except when he was interacting with Lucy. He seemed to come to life and become a person as he portrayed the father. Vikander’s very subtle performance was also unremarkable, coming to life in an exaggerated and unrealistic form toward the end. Wiesz plays the broken-hearted mother, but again, this could have and should have been a complex and emotional role, and that just wasn’t conveyed to the depth it required.
Cinematically, the film is a standout. Painstaking care is taken with each and every gorgeous shot, from the framing to the panning, it’s simply spectacular. Adam Arkapaw, the director of photography, finds a way to convey meaning in every frame. We feel the isolation of the lighthouse. We sense the safety of the town. And we long for the simple pleasures in life—all due to the cinematography skills of Arkapaw.
“The Light Between Oceans” is a long, drawn out, ridiculous portrayal of what is probably a very emotionally loaded and beautifully written book. With subpar performances and what feels like missing information creating a lack of connection with the characters, this film misses the mark. However, I know you romantics are out there and if you’re a Nicholas Sparks film fan, you’ll enjoy this one too. And if there are any social workers out there wanting to see this film, it’s a social worker’s nightmare.
1 1/2 Stars because the cinematography was outstanding