The Light Between Oceans is a sweeping and at times weepy drama, based on the 2012 Australian book of the same name by M.L. Stedman, her debut novel. This post-World War I story focuses on a lighthouse keeper (Michael Fassbender) and his wife (Alicia Vikander) who rescue and then raise a baby they discover adrift in a rowing boat. The lighthouse provides safety and solace to all, though this disappears when the family is recalled to the mainland.
Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines) has never been an upbeat director and this theme continues here. Cianfrance asks the audience to consider and justify impossible choices, while at the same time observing how these decisions will inevitably lead to regret and an all-consuming desire for absolution and forgiveness.
While originally set in Western Australia, Cianfrance moves the setting further south to Stanley, northwest Tasmania and this feels like an inspired choice. The stunning visuals, rugged land and seascapes, enhance the narrative and provide a constant reminder of the isolation, and perhaps freedom, the main couple feel while living on Janus, an outcrop between two oceans and 100 miles from the nearest soul.
The Light Between Oceans features a trio of powerhouse performances from Fassbender, Vikander and later on, Rachel Weisz, who all wear their hearts, not just on their sleeves, but front and centre for all to see. Much like the physical setting, the trio’s emotions are raw, exposed and volatile. The conflicted nature of all three is clear to see, and one’s allegiances seem to blow wildly between them.
Films like this always run the risk of slipping into melodrama, and while it certainly makes a few detours in this direction, Cianfrance just about manages to keep things on track, but only just. However, much like a posting to Janus, the film does feel a little long in places and occasionally confused in terms of narrative, though the intensity of the performances is a constant and engaging hook to hold on to.
The Light Between Oceans is a visual treat, beautifully made and will make you feel both the salt on your skin and the wind in your hair. While the narrative stumbles in a couple of places there is plenty here to enjoy. The performances are first rate and the questions it raises will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Review by Will Malone
- Director – Derek Cianfrance
- Starring – Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
- Writer – Derek Cianfrance (Screenplay) M.L. Steadman (novel)
- Year – 2016
- Running Time – 123 min
This review was originally published at Canberra Film Blog on 29/10/16