Release date: 1st November 2016/Watch the trailer here
Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, The Light Between Oceans is the fourth feature film from director Derek Cianfrance, following the critically acclaimed Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. Set in Australia post-World War I, veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) takes on a position as the lighthouse keeper on an isolated island where he lives, secluded from the rest of the world, with his wife, Isabel (Alicia Vikander).
Initially, The Light Between Oceans plays out as a beautifully shot yet saccharine love story, with long montages of Fassbender and Vikander staring adoringly into one another’s eyes and strolling down the beach hand in hand. The drama is slow-burning, but once a more solid plot appears in the form of a boat containing a dead man and a crying baby, the pace gradually begins to pick up.
Tom and Isabel make the decision to raise the child as their own, but as soon as they leave the island and return to the mainland they discover that their choice has had an impact on other people – namely, the child’s biological mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), who has been left to believe for years that her baby was lost at sea.
Despite having a tendency to veer into melodrama territory, The Light Between Oceans is kept afloat by its two strong leads. The chemistry between Fassbender and Vikander feels raw and real, but they each give two emotive, absorbing performances apart as well as together. It’s just a shame that their characters are never quite as three-dimensional as they deserve to be – Tom appearing to suffer from PTSD following the war is touched upon but never fully explored, while we get to see very little of the story from Isabel’s perspective.
Although not without its flaws, The Light Between Oceans has enough high points – not least of which is yet another enchanting score from composer Alexandre Desplat – for the lows to be forgiven. It’s a heartfelt story about love of both the romantic and the familial variety, the terrible things that it can drive us to, and forgiveness for those terrible things. It earns the occasional tear with little emotional manipulation, instead relying on a sincere sense of poignancy, without ever becoming quite as tragic as it threatens to be. The Light Between Oceans truly is a beautiful film in every sense of the word: from the lingering shots of its stunning scenery to the intimate close-ups of its faces and the many emotions that they wear.