The Light Between Oceans





Derek Cianfrance’s old-fashioned, powerful drama addresses the gulf between what is morally and legally right.


The Light Between Oceans
Light motif: Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender


Forgiveness is easier than resentment. One need only forgive once – resentment can take an entire lifetime. It is this sentiment that propels the central heartbeat of this old-fashioned, sweeping (and wind-swept) adaptation of M.L. Stedman's 2012 novel. In literature – and in its cinematic offspring – great fat white lies are the fertilizer of narrative. And the moral conundrum here – putting the happiness of oneself and others before what is legally or morally right – is stretched through the wringer.


It is 1918 and the square-jawed Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has a lot of ghosts to lay. The position of lighthouse keeper on a deserted outcrop of Western Australia would seem to be the perfect distraction to recuperate from the horrors of the Great War. Having served with distinction for four years in the trenches, Tom still can’t reconcile his guilt for surviving.


Michael Fassbender has a terrific face and the writer-director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) knows the value of the close-up. There is a high snot quotient in his latest film, and cynics might wish to steer a wide berth. But it is nevertheless rewarding to encounter a work so meticulously crafted, from the heartfelt tenor of the performances (courtesy of Fassbender and his Oscar-winning co-stars Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz) to the cinematography of Adam Arkapaw and the luscious strains of Alexandre Desplat's score.


If the film does prove to be heart-breaking, then one may have been paying attention. The power is in the detail and the nuance. By saying so little, Fassbender conveys so much – the unconscionable horrors he has witnessed on the Front cannot be put into words. And because the film’s generous length (132 minutes) allows the audience to invest in the characters, when the first ripple of discord plucks at Tom and his wife Isabel’s happiness, we should be disturbed. Yet the couple’s first argument is predicated upon a misunderstanding. Tom was hoping to surprise his wife (and his gesture is, indeed, intensely moving), but as he says later, he himself “is not too keen on surprises.” And that is precisely what the film is about: everybody trying to do the right thing. But who are we to say what is right? And therein lies the tragedy of the human condition.




Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, Caren Pistorius, Florence Clery, Jane Menelaus, Garry MacDonald, Emily Barclay.


Dir Derek Cianfrance, Pro David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford, Screenplay Derek Cianfrance, Ph Adam Arkapaw, Pro Des Karen Murphy, Ed Jim Helton and Ron Patane, Music Alexandre Desplat, Costumes Erin Benach.


DreamWorks Pictures/Reliance Entertainment/Participant Media/Heyday Films-Entertainment One.

132 mins. UK/USA/New Zealand. 2016. Rel: 1 November 2016. Cert. 12A.