Though the film's expressions of sentiment sometimes verge on sickly, The Light Between Oceans is an engaging film with an acute focus on the power of love, loss and motherhood.
Affecting, engaging and intensely emotive, Derek Cianfrance’s latest film, The Light Between Oceans, is a compelling romantic drama, grounded by its deeply moving plot and terrific performances.
Based on the novel of the same name by M.L. Stedman, the film follows the tumultuous life and times of Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a “numb” World War I veteran who seeks solitude at Janus Rock, a lighthouse on the coast of Western Australia. In his brief visits to the mainland, Tom meets and falls in love with Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a vivacious local girl who manages to revive his spirits following his months of post-traumatic wandering. Despite a blissful and all-too-naive start to their marriage, the couple soon encounter difficulty in conceiving a child – until they rescue and adopt an infant girl adrift at sea. However their play at happy families soon sours when news of the young girl’s history comes to light.
The heart and soul of this film lies within the terrifically affecting performances of its lead actors. Fresh from her Oscar win, Vikander’s presence is magnetic; her big brown, doe-like eyes enrapting the audience into connecting with her character’s struggles completely. Her powerful stand-out performance as this naive, impulsive woman driven by her own desires for love and the comfort of a family is mesmerising. Fassbender provides a similarly immersive performance, depicting Sherbourne’s evolution from war survivor to doting husband, father and martyr, wonderfully. Naturally as a real life couple, the chemistry shared between the two is potent and translates as beautifully on screen as it does off screen.
Rachel Weisz also offers a deeply moving turn as Hannah Roennfeldt, a deeply troubled woman whose tragic backstory filters into the Sherbournes’ situation with devastating results. Though at first it might seem like your average period-set romantic drama, this really is a woman’s film – most clearly defined by the two female performances that anchor its emotive and deeply engaging plot.
The theme of motherhood and family runs throughout the film and is treated with a great amount of respect and attentiveness by Cianfrance. Within the film, he creates a world that is as picturesque as it is isolating. The cinematography of the film, particularly at the beginning, is rather stunning, characterised by the deep blues of the sea and the rich amber of a sunset.
However, the script, which was also adapted by Cianfrance, provides some issues. Though the film deals with melodrama and romance in equal measure, there are times when the amount of sentiment at hand is close to sickly. The beginning of the film and the blossoming of Tom and Isabel’s romance is relentlessly sentimental, relying heavily on drawn-out voiceover sequences. The amount of dramatic letter-reading in the film verges on ridiculous and really hinders the film’s otherwise very immersive traits.
Though it starts off with what is perhaps too much ingrained sentiment, The Light Between Oceans is a deeply affecting film that highlights the unparalleled power of love, loss and motherhood.
The Light Between Oceans, directed by Derek Cianfrance, is distributed by Entertainment One. Certificate 12A.