The Light Between Oceans review – a swirling, sugar-coated melodrama | The Light Between Oceans | The Guardian
get ready for a massive bull market in kleenex stock. There are oceans of tears in this emotional melodrama from writer-director Derek Cianfrance, adapted from the 2012 bestseller by Australian author Ml Stedman.
blatantly and even ruthlessly sentimental, this film tugs at your heart as if it’s ringing in the new year. a new richter scale may have to be devised to measure the lip tremor of the mass audience. never mind “crying”: it’s a sob, a crybaby, and (to certain tight-lipped male critics in the audience) a secret snifflie.
cianfrance had its breakthrough with a movie called blue valentine. But there could hardly be a bluer Valentine’s Day than this one. There’s something quirky and downright absurd about his sadness and his story of romantic sacrifice: a wacky mix of Nicholas Sparks’s Message in a Bottle and Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. The Light Between Oceans isn’t subtle – that dazzling title should alert you – and it’s a far cry from the realistic grit of the less obviously commercial images CyanFrance has done before. here there is more corn in the recipe, a little more ham and cheese. But he pulls it off with frank defiance and strong, heartfelt, witty performances from Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender. The end result is not a guilty pleasure, but rather an immensely innocent helping of low-calorie pain: perhaps the cinematic equivalent of Noël Coward’s “cheap, powerful music.”
Fassbender stars as Tom Sherbourne, a young ex-military man in 1919 Australia who is psychologically scarred by his war experiences. Longing for quiet and solitude, he takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on the beautiful and remote island of Janus Rock, named for the two-faced god whose duality is metaphorically important. Before leaving, he is greeted by the local community on the nearby mainland, in particular a beautiful young woman, Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), who is emotionally wounded by the loss of her siblings in the war. They marry and he takes Isabel to what amounts to her private island kingdom.
They are very happy at first, with Isabel tenderly trimming Tom’s military mustache. But her efforts to have children end in miscarriage and disaster, loneliness unbearably amplifies her depression, and Isabel seems on the verge of a complete catatonic collapse. then they are saved, or doomed, by what seems like a miracle: a rowboat washes up with a dead man on board and a tiny crying baby.
Tom sees how caring for the baby has healed Isabel and suppresses his qualms to cover up this maritime disaster, bury the man’s body and pass off the baby as his own. It’s a crime that lies buried in the shallow grave of his double consciousness, surfacing when Tom and Isabel come to the mainland for their baby’s christening and make a stark discovery in the graveyard: the baby is real, grieving. mother (rachel weisz) whose own story of loss plays out against her own troubled gain.
It is a Solomonic agony of choice: between rival mothers and then between loyalty to spouse or child. In many ways, the film’s most poignant moments are those before the deafening cymbal crash of tragedy, when Tom and Isabel’s relatively normal life together begins to sour and the dull disappointments of normality begin to take hold. when the pair begin to wonder how and if they can get through this. Initially, in fact, the light between the oceans could be the setting for some supernatural tale, or perhaps some kind of domestic psychological thriller, a variation on Patrick Hamilton.
I’m not entirely kidding when I say the opening act’s anxieties are rosemary’s baby hyde’s jekyll. then we hit those big booming notes; alexandre desplat’s score clearly goes for something like elgar, and adam arkapaw’s cinematography often favors the dizzying shimmer of light sources directly into the camera, but cleanses the palate between scenes with giant, sharply detailed romantic landscapes of sea and mountains. clouds.
You’ll need a bit of a sweet tooth to enjoy the taste of light between the oceans, but there’s a lot of trust and it’s very easy to see. it will put you in a sort of wobbly trance.