Based on M.L. Stedman’s first novel published in 2012, the film version of “The Light Between Oceans” is a visual montage of loss and locale. The sound of surf and wind become like Fate, something that can sweep one away or drive one home. Director/writer Derek Cianfrance of “Blue Valentine” ( 2010) fame seems to know what passion children can spark in us.
Supply boats come once a season to the lighthouse at Janus Rock. Visits to the Mainland of Australia, while a day away, are granted only every other year. In this semi-isolation, Tom Sherbourne ( Michael Fassbender) nurses his World War I secrets of the Western Front and becomes the wary keeper of his young family’s secrets as well~ at least for a time.
Oscar nominees, Fassbender for “Steve Jobs” and Alicia Vikander for ” The Danish Girl” are great actors. Add Rachel Weisz ( The Constant Gardener , 2005 and ” The Lobster” , 2016) ,and we have an exquisite cast. Stoic dignity, fresh vivaciousness and heart-rending grief are all on operatic display. A baby is lost, a baby is found and a baby is lost again. Roiling emotions and the roiling sea are joined. Trauma is everywhere. (Even viscerally shown in the many limbless men returning from war in 1918. ) Steam engines puff on land and on sea and cinematographer Adam Arkapew captures all close and wide. Women’s grief -paralyzed faces hug the soil and blades of grass look like sharp nails accentuating their pain.
“The Light Between Oceans” is a morality tale. Isabelle and Tom are oceans apart. Isabelle is more selfish, aggressively goal-centered. She proposes to Tom. As one character offers, “There are not many men on the market these days.” She has picked Tom before their picnic date!
Isabelle has lost two brothers to war. A premonition is stated in her sorrow for her parents: ( one of the times she thinks of others) ” There is no special name for a parent who loses a child~ not like “widow”.
Tom does not act swiftly. His feet are numb, ” stuck in frozen war mud”. When asked about his up-bringing, he states that ” sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past.” When he takes his bride to Janus Rock, he explains the two-faces torn between two ways of seeing things~ two different oceans.
After two miscarriages and a depression that is not really addressed in the screenplay, Isabelle hears a baby wailing in a flailing row boat. Tom rushes to the sea to find the father dead and the infant in need of the basics. Tom wishes to do his job and report the findings straight away, but Isabelle sees a chance for immediate gratification.
“Being mindful of the needs of others” takes on a different meaning for Tom once he sees the birth mother (Rachel Weisz) grieving in the church cemetery. The rest of the tragic tale plays out with the exquisite toddler ( Florence Clery) being one of the most natural child actors I have seen.
The flashbacks of Hannah (Weisz) and Frank, her German husband, are meant to even the emotional score, but Vikander and Fassbender have already won our hearts. We know Tom is right. Lucy Grace will understand the sacrifice.
The picture ‘s downside is that sea wind and sea surf are so deafening that a few snippets of dialogue are lost, but it is an epic tale that shows the awful sides of revenge when one feels one has been betrayed. But “to thy own self be true and then thou can’st not be false to any man” seems to be the moral.
Alexandre Desplat’s original score, too, is epic. “Gone With The Wind” comes to mind. Every emotion is underscored. This is a period piece that throws us back to another time, but the screenplay also pushes us to return to the novel to capture lines like “he ( Tom) struggles to make sense of it-all this love, so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens.” Read the book, then see the film !