Based on the novel of the same name, The Light Between Oceans is a romantic period drama starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. World War I veteran, Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender), becomes the lighthouse keeper on a remote island off the coast of Australia. Seeking isolation after the horrors of war, he unexpectedly finds love with a local girl, Isabel Greysmark (Vikander). During their early years of marriage, however, Isabel is unable to carry a child to term.
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Shortly after losing their second child, a small rowboat washes up on the shore of the lighthouse. Inside is an infant and a dead man. Isabel persuades Tom not to report their discovery and the two raise the child as their own. However, it’s not long before Tom and Isabel meet the baby’s biological mother. Tom and Isabel must decide the fate of their family. Whatever their decision, their lives, their daughters, and that of the biological mother will forever change.
The Light Between Oceans also stars Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown, and Jack Thompson.
The Light Between Oceans Review
This review was difficult for me to write. Yes, The Light Between Oceans is a poignant film that will tug at your heartstrings. Unfortunately, it is also an equally forgettable film. I was really (really) looking forward to watching this film. The novel is incredible and the story perfect for the big screen. Yes, it is rare for a film to be “as good as the book.” I completely understand that and expect deviations. What I don’t expect is for a movie to completely lose the spirit of the novel. Consequently, I struggled while watching The Light Between Oceans.
I do not think this is an either love it or hate it film. From what I can tell, viewers were spread across the “like/dislike” spectrum. So, for those who haven’t seen The Light Between Oceans, and are on the fence, I say take a chance. Because, despite the uneven script, the acting and cinematography are fantastic. The chemistry between Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander is insane! The swoon-worthy moments were those of the gentle variety. A kindred connection – like seeing like without having to articulate the why. So, while the film was unremarkable, the superb work of the actors stays with you and that is what makes this film poignant.
The Performances and Cinematography in The Light Between Oceans
First, the cinematography. Director of Photography, Adam Arkapaw, did a fantastic job with the visual elements of the film. The film was beautifully shot with incredible views of Australia and New Zealand. Often, these views became characters in a scene. Such as images of the starkness of the island reflecting Tom’s struggle with survivor’s guilt and the trauma of the war. These segue into romantic images of the ocean and sun-filled skies as he falls in love with Isabel. Then, there are those close-ups of Isabel as she suffers the loss of her children. The focus of the camera on her finger as she hits the same key on the piano over and over. Or, Tom’s expressions as his conscience wars with his heart. It’s these choices, and many others, by Arkapaw that lend the film an elegance it would otherwise be missing.
Speaking of Tom’s expressions, Michael Fassbender puts so much in the minute reactions of Tom. From every crinkle of his forehead to the tenor of his voice, he says more with his body than he does with his words. It’s these personal touches that really elevate his character into a relatable man. This is a man who suffers from survivor’s guilt. That guilt carries over into his relationship with Isabel. Her happiness at finding the baby is hard for him to resist. Should he destroy that happiness by doing the right thing will undoubtedly cause him to lose Isabel. So, he agrees to the subterfuge. And in doing so, adds more guilt. Especially after he meets Hannah. That guilt wars with the love he has for Isabel and eventually the baby he raises as his daughter.
The same applies to Alicia Vikander’s Isabel. It wasn’t her words but her actions that spoke to me. I felt her devastation when she lost her babies. It hit me hard. The desolation and despair were gut-wrenching. To the same degree, it was hard to not be happy for her when they find the baby. Even knowing it was wrong, what she was asking Tom to do, I could not begrudge her joy. Because on the edge of that joy is that desperation. That driving desire to have a child of her own.
Complementing Alicia Vikander’s performance is Rachel Weisz’s turn as Hannah Roehnfeldt. What’s particular haunting about her performance is the knowledge that she is suffering because of Tom and Isabel’s actions. There is a world of pain as a wife and mother struggling after losing her family.
Final Thoughts on The Light Between Oceans
Despite stellar performances by the cast (including Bryan Brown as Hannah’s father), the movie still fell flat for me. I found it to be overly melodramatic and heavy-handed on the foreshadowing. I felt the script could have been better, pulling more from the emotions of the novel than it did. Instead, it attempted to recreate in different words what the novel already accomplished. Still, the cast really poured their hearts into this film which made viewing it somewhat easier.
As I said above, if you haven’t seen the film, it’s worth viewing for the outstanding work of the cast and the beautiful cinematography. In addition, the insane chemistry between Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander will keep you watching. After all, the two met and fell in love on the set of The Light Between Oceans and married in 2017. It’s almost like we get a sneak peek into a small part of their real-life romance.
Have you seen The Light Between Oceans? What did you think? Share your thoughts below!
Content Warning: Rated PG-13 for thematic material (miscarriages) and some sexual content. There is a sex scene with brief flashes of nudity and sexual movement. It is not a gratuitous or explicit scene.
The Light Between Oceans is available to stream with a subscription to Showtime. Or, you can buy or rent it on Amazon, Youtube, iTunes, and Vudu.
Photos: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/ Touchstone
“We’ll always have Paris.”
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
(Scroll down for the Full Romantic Period Drama Breakdown)