Light Between Oceans

Telling an earnest love story is a tall order in the age of dating apps and manicured Instagram photos. The dream and the cynical reality have never been quite so at odds. Yet, last year John Crowley managed to pull it off with his delightful adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn. And now, Derek Cianfrance has done it again with The Light Between Oceans. Both films succeed because they revel patiently and seductively in familiarity. But, like enjoying an old story from your crazy uncle for the hundredth time, the sheer joy is not the story itself but the gifted precision of the storyteller.

In The Light Between Oceans, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) begins as a broken man. He is a veteran of The Great War and he wants nothing more than to find solace manning a lighthouse on a tiny spit of land off the coast of Western Australia. But Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a woman in the town nearby, sets her sights on him and before long they are exchanging vows.

Their love story is so nearly wordless. Cianfrance instead relies on Fassbender and Vikander’s choices and chemistry to depict their solemn romance on the isolated island. Before long, Tom and Isabel attempt to conceive and are met with tragedy. As the grieving couple attempts to pick up the pieces following a second miscarriage, a tiny rowboat washes ashore carrying a dead man and crying baby. In a seminal moment, they are forced to make a devastating decision.

As always, Alexandre Desplat’s score is sweeping and unabashed; perfectly suited for Cianfrance and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw’s spell-binding images of Tom’s lighthouse and the isle of Janus. Vikander manages to capture all the naivety of a young bride and the misery of a childless mother, disarming you with her instincts as a performer. Rachel Weisz also delivers a heartbreaking performance in a supporting role.

Although the film’s final scenes are at times abrupt and disjointed, Cianfrance’s agenda is too lofty to be ignored. Some viewers also might find The Light Between Oceans a bit slow for any genre. This is a film grappling with the serene storytelling of another era. It’s a story short on razzle dazzle, aiming instead for a reliable, age-old profundity, like a light in the dark, guiding you home.