‘The Light Between Oceans’ depicts a beautiful yet unsatisfying reality
Nothing like an emotionally-draining drama to start the fall season. Here Michael Fassbender teams up with real-life girlfriend Alicia Vikander in a solemn post-World War I romantic drama that refuses to allow these amazing actors to soar.
Before the film begins, we hear the loud wind of a storm coming in and the waves of the sea crashing into the sand; hardly a subtle metaphor for what is to come. We know we are in for a long and tough ride. The camera pans to a pale man with no light behind his eyes. His name is Tom (Fassbender), a war veteran who has accepted a solitary job at a lonely lighthouse in Australia. It seems the main reason he takes this job is because he wants to be isolated.
Tom’s world is colorless, dull and mostly gray. Everything is faded out and only Tom is focused, showing us that he is as emotionally desolate as the island he inhabits (showing true survivor’s guilt). But as soon as Tom encounters Isabel (Vikander), the sun magically appears, as if she were literally a breath of fresh air.
The two go out on a picnic and we officially meet Isabel. She is doe-eyed, ambitious and feisty. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, wears her heart on her sleeve and is reckless, like when she proposes to Tom on one of their first dates.
Tom and Isabel inevitably marry and happily live together on the isolated island. Isabel becomes pregnant and everything is sunny, colorful and hopeful until a storm (again, a not so subtle metaphor) arrives and brings with it a miscarriage. The island becomes even bleaker as Isabel miscarries again.
All hope seems gone for this young couple until Isabel hears an infant’s cry coming from the shoreline. You would think her mind is playing a cruel trick on her until Tom and Isabel follow the cry and find a boat washed up on the shore, carrying a baby and a dead man, presumably the father.
Tom plans to report the event but Isabel, still grieving over her lost children, begs Tom not to so they can raise the child as their own. Tom reluctantly gives-in to Isabel. They raise the child as their own and live happily on the island as a family until Tom and Isabel meet Hannah (Rachel Weisz), a woman who they learn has lost her husband and child at sea.
The film’s first act focuses on Tom’s solemn character and morality. The camera follows him and only him, with his shades of gray and starving colors. As an audience, we follow him to the lighthouse, around town, and we understand his noble reasoning to do what is right.
The second act switches completely to Vikander, brightening with Isabel’s persona before quickly reverting to the dull gray of Tom’s. Isabel quickly dominates their world with her feisty spirit (that has grown substantially since her introduction). Her maternal selfishness and motherly instinct drives her to do everything in her power to keep “her baby.”
One of the technical flaws in this piece is the editing and cinematography. I understand writer-director Derek Cianfrance wanted to tell an intimate story, but his close-ups are so close you can’t see the entire faces of his actors, and his wide shots are apparently only there to show a sunset, sunrise or quickly approaching storm.
Many scenes feel unnecessary in this film, which should’ve ended ten minutes before the finishing credits rolled. Cianfrance’s script also keeps these exceptional actors from performing to their potential. There is one scene where Vikander excels and conveys an intense emotional reaction that reminded me how amazing of an actress she is. Fassbender isn’t given that luxury and the barely-there part Rachel Weisz plays simply wastes her talent.
Even though “The Light Between the Oceans” has its share of rough patches, Cianfrance does in fact tell his story. Stripping away the overacting, the unimaginative and inappropriate score from Alexandre Desplat, the ridiculous editing and the foolish script, the film is simply an earnest tale of responsibility, forgiveness and what being an adult is all about.
Lauren LaMagna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @laurenlamango.