Screenplay by Derek Cianfrance, based on the novel by M.L. Stedman
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson, Thomas Unger and more
Grade: Three and a half stars
There are two kinds of movies that make you cry – the ones where you think “I hate you so much” as you’re sobbing uncontrollably, and the ones where you think “Oh no, this is so beautiful” as you’re sobbing uncontrollably.
“The Light Between Oceans” will mostly inspire the latter sort of crying, and even when you hate the filmmakers a little, it will only be because you love the characters so much.
Based on the novel by M.L. Steadman, the movie is a beautifully constructed, absolutely heartbreaking look at love, four good people and one choice with far-reaching consequences. It has the weight and grace of the best Shakespearean tragedies, but by the end somehow manages to find a measure of peace that the Bard rarely allowed his characters.
The movie starts in 1918, where a soldier traumatized by WWI ends up taking a job at an isolated lighthouse somewhere on the coast of Australia. He falls in love and brings his wife to the lighthouse, though a series of tragedies nearly breaks her spirit. When another tragedy brings a seemingly orphaned baby to the lighthouse shore, they decide to keep the child and inadvertently start a chain of events that end up bringing grief to everyone involved.
Michael Fassbender has haunted stoicism down to an art form by this point, though here he’s careful to add the flashes of vulnerability that makes you care about the character more than he could ever care about himself. Alicia Vikander has a sweetness and wildness that seems just as fragile, and the early stages of their relationship are like watching two wildflowers twining together in a snow bank. They look like the promise of hope, but you’re all too aware of how easily they can be destroyed.
Hannah, the baby’s mother (played by Rachel Weisz), is given the same sort of dignity and depth, and her relationship with her late husband is sketched out with the same tenderness and sweetness as Tom and Isabel’s. The parallel construction between the two couples adds both depth and heartbreak to the movie, humanizing all sides and making all of the choices involved both more moving and more painful. There are no villains here, and anyone who’s ever lost a loved one will understand what the people on both sides are going through.
The scenery reflects the movie’s emotions, wide, gorgeous shots that emphasize the beauty, wildness and isolation of the world the character’s live in. The sign of an approaching storm at one point leaves you with just as much dread as a music cue in a horror movie, a wash of violence that you just know will crush out the light.
Surprisingly, though, that doesn’t turn out to be the end of the story. The end is remarkably faithful to the one in the book, and though not “happy” in any kind of traditional sense at least allows for a sense of understanding and closure. The light, as it turns out, survives, though not quite as bright as it had once been. We are stronger than we realize, even though our hearts are broken.
In “The Light Between Oceans,” the final message seems to be that love can survive pretty much anything. It may cause unimaginable pain, but it has a power that can endure even the worst storms.
© 2016 - DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC.