The Light Between Oceans
by Lisa Dib
Let it be said that The Light Between Oceans is devastating. It is tragedy piled upon tragedy piled upon the wide and uncaring sea that surrounds our country. It’s a gorgeous film with a satisfying ending (in its own way), but the melodrama is a lot to take in.
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s last films that you might recognise were The Place Beyond The Pines and Blue Valentine. That’ll give you some idea as to the kind of film we have here. We open on Australia in 1918, where Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a man just out of the war, taking up a post as a lighthouse keeper. Pretty soon he falls for Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl), they marry and take up residence on the lonely island. They look forward to starting a family but, two stillborn children later, they keep little hope of such things. Then, as if from God or nowhere, a rowboat floats to their shore, and inside it is one dead man and one live, distressed baby girl.
As you can imagine, the two see this as a miracle, but a morally ambiguous one: they argue, unsure what to do, but, of course, they keep the young girl and raise her as their own. This becomes all the more complicated when Tom finds out who the girl’s real mother is, and the story behind her seemingly unearthly appearance on the beach. The film explores all the moral quandaries you might expect from such a difficult and upsetting situation: Tom’s struggle between fulfilling his wife’s one desire, and doing the ‘right thing’; Isabel’s strength in having to tear herself away from the girl she considers very much ‘her daughter’; even the girl’s rightful mother (Rachel Weisz) has a few things to consider once her daughter is back and the ‘secret’ is out. It’s all terribly sad for all concerned but, as you might imagine would happen in such a film, love conquers all and tragedy only strengthens our protagonists to do better things, and so on.
It’s a lovely film, but spare in places. Some scenes end simply with a character looking vaguely out of a window, symbolising what exactly? And although their acting is more than decent, there’s not enough believability between Fassbender and Vikander; whether this is because Fassbender looks so very much older than his co-star (in real life, Fassbender is 39, while Vikander is very recently 28, and looks even younger in the film) or because they simply don’t create the right chemistry, who knows. Indeed, more screen time could have been given to the one outing they have before deciding to get married spend eternity together.
It’s a very well-made film, if a little dawdling in parts, and credit must be given to some of the supporting cast, who were superb, like Norman Gunston himself Garry McDonald in a dramatic turn as Isabel’s father and Weisz, who is at peak grief and confusion.
The Light Between Oceans is out now.