The Light Between Oceans

MPAA Rating: PG-13 | Rating: ★★★½
Release year: 2016
Genre: Drama, Romance Director: Derek Cianfrance

The Light Between Oceans is classically romantic. It feels like seeing a painting come to life, where the beautiful images and characters are somehow imbued with spirit. Purposefully directed and aesthetically pleasing, this is also a sad film, a weighty film, a morally-complex melodrama which never devolves into sentimentality.

The film centers on the relationship between Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and their lives on the island of Janus off the coast of Australia. Tom is the lighthouse keeper on Janus, living in isolation from the rest of the world as an escape from the horrors he experienced in WWI. Tom is quiet, stoic, yet stirring with emotions internally. Isabel is full of vigor and life, her emotions spilling forth with ease. We watch this couple navigate a budding romance, the beginnings of married life, the joys of pregnancy, the pain and suffering of miscarriage. When a boat carrying two passengers arrives at a pivotal moment, both Tom and Isabel must make a moral decision, one which leads to waves of further ethical resolutions. The Light Between Oceans serves as both a romance and a fable, a tragic tale of impossible decisions regarding the fate of a child’s life.

Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance focuses his films on familial legacy and the emotional choices we make which lead to painful and lasting consequences. Blue Valentine chronicled the emergence and decline of a marital relationship, while The Place Beyond the Pines (my review) evaluated how the actual sins of fathers continue to haunt their children. While The Light Between Oceans differs in its romantic tone and its lush painterly visuals, the theme of abrupt parental decisions affecting the lives of their children is clearly present. In each of his films, Cianfrance is unafraid of shifting the film’s focus from one character or set of characters to a whole new narrative thread, a choice which somehow works; it’s appropriately abrupt in each case, and serves the overall story. In The Light Between Oceans, the incidental narrative involves Hannah (Rachel Weisz), her marriage to a young German man, and the fate of their infant daughter. The trio of performances from Vikander, Fassbender, and Weisz are all excellent, with Vikander being particularly courageous in her affecting portrayal of a young mother who experiences immense, repeated loss.

The Light Between Oceans wrestles with its sense of time; it is at once nostalgic and timeless, looking backward on past regrets and memories while remaining fixated within the present. The lighthouse has an eternal element to it. It’s a place where time somehow stops, where there is only Now, this moment and place and feelings and relationships. Each time Tom and Isabel have to leave the island, time begins again, with every moment somehow weighted with grief, a longing to be back on the timeless cliff jutting from the water. The lighthouse looms over the island’s occupants with a sort of cosmic transcendence, a beacon illuminating their hopes and their pain. The island’s name is Janus, a god with two faces, peering into the past and looking ahead for the future, a light in the darkness between two bodies of water, offering comfort to travelers passing through.

IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2547584/

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