movie reelist poster placeholder

The Light Between Oceans

Coming Soon

If you’ve resolved that you will never find love, to what extent will you go to keep it when you finally find it? What will you do for the ones you love? What they want? What they need? Or what you believe is right? Those are the questions at the heart of The Light Between Oceans, a film that forces you to consider these questions. When love, morality, duty and guilt collide, there simply are no easy answers.

We are introduced to Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), Steve Jobs, (2015)), a taciturn veteran of the First World War who hopes to find quiet and peace in his new posting at a remote island lighthouse off the coast of Australia. He finds more than he anticipated when vivacious Isabel (Alicia Vikander, Jason Bourne (2016), The Danish Girl (2015)) crosses his path and becomes his bride, quickly adapting to life on isolated Janus. Tom finds that he hasn’t lost the ability to experience love and joy as they plan a future together.

Life doesn’t always go as planned, however, and it’s the unexpected arrival of a rowboat containing a dead man and an infant that sets Tom and Isabel’s lives together on a completely separate course. Baby Lucy can only be a miracle…but there’s a story behind this miracle, and that story includes another woman and her own tragedy. The intersection of these two stories is bittersweet, but inevitable from the beginning.

What saves The Light Between Oceans from being just another romance-tragedy-tearjerker-HEA is that there are no villains in this movie. To have a narrative and, as a viewer, to have an ending to root for, we are put in the position of having to pick which of these characters we will cast as the bad guy/girl. It’s very difficult to do because each of them have motives that are understandable and easy to relate to: love (romantic and familial), duty (familial and societal) and integrity (societal and personal). It’s arguable that it’s actually impossible to assign a villain, and as such, the film walks a very fine line. It’s one that people can walk out of having a diametrically-opposite opinion from their partner, spouse or friend.

The first strength of the film is the acting: Fassbender and Vikander commit themselves fully to their respective roles, I even found myself smiling or withdrawing along with them. I was very impressed at how both of them interacted with the infant, toddler and young Lucy (Florence Clery)…baby or child actors don’t necessarily act or behave as the script would ask them to. The (many) scenes with Lucy are so artlessly real and engaging that I can only imagine that there was a lot of “just go with it” in the direction to the adults. It always feels completely authentic to the narrative, never too cutesy or forced.

The second strength is the location itself: the lighthouse is on Janus (named for the Roman god of the future and past, beginnings and endings) and the roar of the ocean and wind is ever-present. Even when not at its wildest, it’s always there. The remoteness of the location only serves to underscore the happy bubble that Tom, Isabel and Lucy have created. It’s never threatening, it just is, whether beautiful or harsh…even in scenes where the action has nothing to do with the setting, it’s still always there.

The weakness that comes dangerously close to derailing the movie is the insertion of maudlin and unnecessarily dramatic Hollywood moments. With this film and the choices its characters (and we) are forced to make, pushing these irritating faux-climaxes in our face isn’t needed or wanted. What will she say? What will he do? We don’t care…there’s one inevitable decision to be made and we’d rather get there along with the characters rather than whoever decided there now must be at least one (or two, or three) The Notebook (2004) moment(s) in every movie that even smacks of romance.

I will say, though, that I was satisfied with the ending, and I know I wasn’t the only one. I heard my own thoughts echoed in other patrons’ conversations, and although I have not read the novel that the film is based on, it is apparently true to the source material in the overall themes as well. If you want a formulaic love story, look elsewhere…The Light Between Oceans will indeed deliver, but in ways you certainly will not expect.


The Light Between Oceans is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Guest Contributor
Guest Contributors consist of writers not currently on-staff and are currently under evaluation. Movie Reelist staff writers have shown the ability to cultivate a dedicated readership through a unique voice and social strategy. If you fit this description and would like to be considered, please reach out through the contact link located at the bottom of this page.

Leave a comment...