A good old fashioned tearjerker which harks back to a time where romance was forged via lingering eye contact and poetic love letters rather than Tinder dates and Instagram selfies. The film’s overbearing earnestness and melodramatic dialogue crash through the cinema screen like waves on a deserted beach but the emotional rawness of the story resonates. It will likely evoke a tsunami of tears in multiplexes everywhere.
Based on the 2012 novel by M.L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans is a beautiful looking film which boasts an incredible cast at the top of their game. Michael Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a psychologically wounded war veteran who takes up work as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island off the West Australian coast in order to escape the outside world. While initially withdrawn and emotionally unavailable, he is coaxed from abject solitude by the angelic Isabel (Alicia Vikander). A whirlwind romance ensues and the pair marry, relocate to the island and embark on an idyllic honeymoon period. It all starts to derail when their attempts to start a family are tragically halted. One fateful day a boat washes up on shore with a man’s dead body and a screaming infant on-board. Isabel convinces Tom to let her keep the baby and raise it as their own. They name the child Lucy and for a while live a life of domestic bliss. It’s a decision which has devastating repercussions for all involved.
The film is riddled with incredulity and requires a suspension of disbelief to keep you invested. The speed and ease at which the romance develops, the timely appearance of the baby on the boat and Tom’s chance encounter with Lucy’s real mother (Rachel Weisz) are eyebrow raising plot points all too conveniently placed for the film’s own good. Where it succeeds though is in finding the emotional core of the characters and expertly exploiting the dramatic potential of the central premise. Director Derek Cianfrance has impressed with his examination of complex family relationships in his previous films Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines. He also possesses a strong visual sensibility. Here his thematic concerns and cinematic vision are superbly realised. With assistance from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the striking locations and period detail are beautifully captured and the powerful score from Alexandre Desplat provides the film with an epic sense of grandeur. Cianfrance also has a canny ability to coax fantastic performances from his cast. Fassbender and Vikander are immaculate in the leads. The character arc of Alice is gut wrenching and some of her scenes are excruciatingly moving, particularly when Lucy is literally ripped from her arms by the authorities. Tom’s crisis of conscience makes for compelling viewing and Fassbender instils a potent vulnerability to his character. The romantic chemistry between the pair is convincing, but the breakdown in their relationship is equally captivating. Florence Clery is a delightful screen presence as the little girl at the centre of the story and the ever reliable Rachel Weisz plays her role perfectly. Veterans Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown add class and gravity to proceedings in small but sterling supporting roles. The film does a fine job of spreading your sympathies across all the characters. No one emerges from this sorry tale unscathed.
All in all, it’s an elegant piece of work. Despite the occasional resort to sappiness and contrived plotting, The Light Between Oceans leaves a definite mark. It’s an emotionally draining but rewarding experience. Even the most hardened heart will struggle to stop their bottom lip from quivering as the end credits roll.