Friday, September 2, 2016


In the past six years, writer/director Derek Cianfrance has excelled in making films which explore the nature of flawed characters. In 2010 he took us through the paces of a troubled marriage in BLUE VALENTINE, and in 2012 focused on the hard feelings than can exist between fathers and sons in THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. His newest, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, certainly has characters with weaknesses, but this time, they are weaknesses which make his characters as human as any of us.

Tom (Michael Fassbender), has returned from four years of fighting in the First World War, and seeking the quiet life, takes a job tending a lighthouse on a remote island. During one of his breaks, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander), and they soon fall in love and live together on the island. Trying to raise a family, Isabel miscarriages twice, but one day discovers a wayward boat with an infant girl. Tom and Alicia decide to keep the girl for their own, and four years later…cross paths with Hannah (Rachel Weisz), the true mother of the child.

Based on the novel of the same name, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is a film which has a lot going on. It has a lot to say about love and marriage, raising a child, forgiveness and resentment, and facing consequences for our actions. The central theme is decisions based on morals and ethics, and throughout the film the characters are faced with making choices which they can legitimately argue for and against. The decision to keep the baby as their own, along with the even tougher choices which need to be made once the true mother is discovered, drives the film…and Cianfrance, who also penned the script, uses every minute to explore every corner of the issues.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is a slow burner; there’s no real action and the pacing is deliberate, but what makes the drama tick is the fine work done with the characters even before they get to the island. A good portion of the early goings is spent establishing Tom and Isabel; Tom has been through a war, feels like he has reached all that life can offer, and is withdrawn inside himself. Isabel on the other hand is full of life and constantly reaching for the stars. The contrast between the two is note-perfect, and makes the eventual drama work because by that time the two characters are very well developed. They’re not drawn as weak or flawed, but as very human, and by film’s end we are sure to be double-guessing ourselves as to how we would react in their situation.

Cianfrance paints a beautiful picture for his characters to live in. The ocean, sunsets, sunrises, and the island are stunningly filmed, and the fine details of Tom and Isabel’s house makes the film feel like it’s in our laps. There is a classic cinematic feel going in both look and substance. Dramatic scenes between Tom and Isabel are heartbreaking; with Isabel’s two miscarriages being the most gut-wrenching. There is also one wicked sequence involving an island-storm which is as frightening as it is awesome.

Performances are outstanding. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander have amazing chemistry together, and it doesn’t take long to buy into their love or their eventual problems. Fassbender pulls off a transformation throughout the course of the film; he begins with a constant melancholy with a far-away look as man torn by war, and finishes looking like a newborn. Vikander has to do the most heavy lifting; having to go through the anguish of losing two babies, the joy of finding one, and the terror of having to lose one again. As good as Vikander is, Rachel Weisz is equally effective; playing a woman constantly in mourning. By far, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is an actor’s workshop.

With so much for the characters to deal with, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS often feels like two or three different films, and the middleweight-running time of 132 minutes feels a lot longer thanks to the slow pacing and long stretches of dialogue. It plays out like a Greek Tragedy, but those hearty enough to endure will certainly be rewarded, as Cianfrance has written and directed an exquisite film here, and manages to generate pity for every single character in the story, despite how humanly-flawed they may be.


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