Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "The Light Between Oceans" high on melodrama

Sep 02, 2016 03:49PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in The Light Between Oceans - © 2016 Dreamworks.

The Light Between Oceans (Dreamworks)

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content.

Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Caren Pistorius, Florence Clery, Anthony Hayes, Emily Barclay, Leon Ford, Thomas Unger, Benedict Hardie, Georgie Jean Gascoigne, Elliot and Evangeline Newbery.

Written by Derek Cianfrance, based on the novel by M. L. Stedman.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance.



Ethics and morality are concepts that are often overlooked in our rapidly changing society. With politicians, athletes and celebrities grabbing headlines over what seems like an endless parade of bad behavior (given disproportionate attention by media that serves masses driven by instant gratification), it should come as no surprise that some movies reflect dilemmas that would be unthinkable a few decades ago (yeah, this is one of those “old guy” rants over how we’re headed to Heck in a hand basket). One movie that reflects such ethical struggles is the film adaptation of M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, set in post World War I along the Australian coast.

Michael Fassbender stars as Tom, a WWI vet who takes on a job as a lighthouse keeper on an island to escape the terrors of war and avoid human contact. Before heading out to the island, he meets the beautiful, young Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and agrees to correspond with her. As time passes, the pair falls in love and they eventually marry. Life on the island leads to two failed pregnancies, which causes Isabel to immerse herself in sorrow. One day, a small rowboat washes ashore containing small baby girl, barely alive – along with her deceased father. Seeing the providence of a having a helpless baby show up right after two miscarriages, Isabel convinces Tom to keep the incident a secret from the local authorities. Although torn between his duty as a government employee and his devotion to his grieving wife, Tom agrees. He buries her dad’s body and poses as her father.

Five years later, Tom discovers that the girl’s mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) not only exists, but lives in the nearby town where she grieves for the loss of her entire family. Overcome with guilt, Tom leaves a note for Hannah to reassure her that her baby is okay and her husband has died, hoping to give the woman a little closure. His ploy only deepens Hannah’s resolve to discover the whereabouts of her daughter. Tom eventually leaks the truth, leading to his arrest. Isabel is nearly driven mad due to the loss of the little girl she named Grace (played by Florence Clery as a 5-year-old and two sets of twins as a baby and toddler) and refuses to forgive Tom for what he’s done. Meanwhile, Grace (whose real name is Lucy) refuses to accept Hannah as her mother, and even tries to run away. Hannah must decide whether to sacrifice her own needs for the good of the little girl, and to save Tom from going to trial for murder (since local authorities think he killed the girl’s dad).

The Light Between Oceans is a movie that looks beautiful and tries really hard to cater to the audience’s emotional side. Fassbender and Vikander’s performances are noteworthy, and were it not for their incredible talents and screen presence, the movie might have been a complete disaster.  The problem with the movie is the pedestrian way in which the main characters shed themselves of any ethical dilemmas, as they steal away a child that obviously does not belong to them. I found the disconnect somewhat distracting, and hard to garner much sympathy for Tom and Isabel.

One other thing The Light Between Oceans has going for it is the excellent cinematography from Adam Arkapaw and art direction from Sophie Nash, which transports the audience to the 1920s and offers of beautiful scenery. A movie needs a little more than scenery, and in the end, The Light Between Oceans turns out to be nothing more than a nice-looking melodrama.


The Light Between Oceans Trailer