A lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from a drifting rowing boat.
‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a well intentioned melodrama that unfortunately succumbs to some of the worst tendencies of its genre, despite terrific performances from its lead actors. Based on a bestselling novel and adapted for the screen by Derek Cianfrance, a director responsible for the excellent ‘Blue Valentine’ and ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, I had high hopes going into this but was mostly bored and disappointed. The film takes place mostly on a small island off the coast of Western Australia, where a man suffering from PTSD after his experiences during the first world war takes up a position of solitude as the derelict island’s lighthouse keeper. He’s soon joined by local girl Isabel (Alicia Vikander), who he swiftly falls in love with, before a series of tragedies affect the couple’s mindset and happiness. It’s at this point when they make a key decision with drastic consequences and the remainder of the film surveys the fallout from this decision.
The film can be broadly looked at in two halves; the first half before the decision, focusing on blossoming love and the great chemistry between Vikander and Michael Fassbender (who plays Tom, the lighthouse keeper). It’s easy to see how the chemistry on display here transferred off screen and ‘The Light Between Oceans’ often gets by to an extent on this magnificent leading pair, who often elevate material that is not worthy enough for their ability. This part of the film is relatively enjoyable as it explores themes of trauma, love, loss and grief to generally interesting results, with Adam Arkapaw’s sweeping cinematography lusciously bringing this raw and largely untouched part of the world to life. The second half is where things start to fall apart as the narrative starts to become more plot driven with a focus on how the ‘decision’ starts to play out in the character’s actions. The central question is undoubtedly fascinating and some of the attempts to explore its effect on the characters are successful, but I felt the film began to lose credibility as character motivations started to make increasingly less and less sense. The last half hour in particular is ridiculous and the characters started to feel less like real people and more like plot points to reach the designated end point, despite the best attempts of Fassbender, Vikander and Rachel Weisz to sell it.
‘The Light Between Oceans’ isn’t a bad film, but it lost me towards the end with the direction the narrative went in, and the good performances were unable to save this from being a long and often boring melodrama that squandered its potential in a disappointing way.
Directed By: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz