The Light Between Oceans movie cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
The Light Between Oceans movie director: Derek Cianfrance
“You only have to forgive once.” For all its faults, The Light Between Oceans can be forgiven for giving us this one line. As a German character who meets an unfortunate death in the film points out, it’s either that, or a “lifetime of resentment”, “every day”. One can’t really argue with this.
The Light Between Oceans isn’t as clear-sighted about a lot else, including the title. It spends most of its time establishing a wind-swept, sun-dappled, water-lapped romance between Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabelle (Alicia Vikander), on a desolate island next to the lighthouse he manages. The scenes are postcard Nicholas Sparks; the reason they rise above is that Fassbender and Vikander (also, a real-life couple now) hint at a deep-seated passion bound by unsaid pain.
Tom, we know, is an Australian World War I veteran, carrying the ghosts of the deaths he has seen. Isabelle, who comes to him like a ray of sunshine, seems to understand and fall in step with it.
Their relationship, and the film’s beat, changes when Isabelle miscarries two of their babies in quick succession. During one of these miscarriages, Tom is working alone in his lighthouse while she climbs up the steps in pain against a raging storm, unheard. That guilt, and an unexplained revulsion for doctors, dictates the actions of Tom and Isabelle when a baby washes up on the shore soon after they have lost their second child.
There is a dead man next to the baby girl on the boat, presumed to be her father. Isabelle convinces Tom that perhaps this was how God intended it to be. Against better judgment and his official responsibilities, Tom decides to help Isabelle hide the truth and present “Lucy” to the world as their own newborn.
As much as war plays a role in setting the moral frame of this story, so do duty, God and Church. And when the girl’s real mother, a grieving Hannah (Rachel Weisz), comes into the picture, at a cemetery, it tears everyone apart.
However, much as Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) takes his time getting us here, he doesn’t spend as much developing the rest of the film, now that we have reached its dramatic conflict. Hannah’s story particularly is dismissed in a few, inconsequential flashbacks, leaving us feeling little for her.
A parallel sidetrack has police trying to probe the case while we want Cianfrance, who adapted the story from a bestseller by the same name, to swing around to Fassbender and Vikander, who are still acting their hearts out, and grieving even more.
It seems another of those very stretched plot points that Tom and Hannah’s husband, who was a German, once fought for opposite sides in the war, and are now bound by the most elemental of human bonds — the love for a child.
Nobody comments on this, but could that be ‘the light between the oceans’?