The Light Between Oceans is based on the novel of the same name, written by M.L. Stedman. It is directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) and tells the story of Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a couple who discover a baby in a boat washed ashore and proceed to raise the child as their own, thus confronting the consequences that come with it.
While an intriguing concept with plenty of positives within the film, its impact on the audience is hampered by a plot that doesn’t truly kick in until the second act, and a run-time which makes the ending feel far too stretched out.
Despite suffering from a weak first act, in which Tom and Isabel meet, fall in love and get married in what wouldn’t have felt out of place in a cheesy rom-com, The Light Between Oceans really comes into its own in the second act.
It is at this point that the acting quality that comes from the talented cast assembled really shines through. Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz (Hannah Roenfeldt) do very well as a husband conflicted between his sense of morality and the love for his wife, and a woman coming to terms with finding and raising a child that, upon reuniting with her real mother, rejects her.
However, it is Fassbender’s co-star, Alicia Vikander, who really stands out. As Isabel, Vikander plays a woman who suffers from a tragedy that none of us should ever suffer from. This tragedy, and the intense isolation she encounters living on an island with just her lightkeeper husband to keep her company, as well as her desire for motherhood, blinds her from the truth about her “daughter” Lucy/Grace/Lucy-Grace (played at the character’s eldest, and played adorably well, by Florence Clery).
Aside from the strong acting on show, the camerawork and cinematography is something to behold. Adam Arkapaw, director of cinematography for the film, takes advantage of the beautiful landscapes to capture the look and feel of the island in the film as well as capturing the tranquillity, and often awesome power of the ocean surrounding the island.
Arkapaw, who also did cinematography for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed film as well as Macbeth (2015) and True Detective does all of this without taking away from what is happening in the film itself, instead contributing to the plot, characters and overall feel of the picture.
Unfortunately, for all of the goodwill the movie builds up when it comes to its acting and overall presentation, it undoes it with what can be best described as an inconsistent plot not helped by a run time that felt far longer than it actually was.
The film opens with, as previously mentioned, a first act which details the background of Tom (he is a World War 1 veteran), as well as the events which lead to Tom and Isabel falling in love, getting married, and living on the island together, all of which seems to happen in the space of around 3 months.
While the chemistry between Vikander and Fassbender is certainly there and grows as the film goes on to detail their subsequent life together, not only is the first act rushed and muddled but it does not really do the job of explaining just why they fall in love in the first place.
The relationship does not feel genuine and organic in its infancy which makes it far harder to invest in emotionally. However, it is not just the first act which fails to inspire, the ending of the film can be seen as quite weak as well.
Where the film suffers is a lack of payoff for Alicia Vikander’s character. The chosen ending consists of a grown up Lucy-Grace visiting an elderly Tom and Isabel.
When she gets there, Lucy-Grace discovers that Isabel has died and is left with a letter from Isabel, and Tom then gets to meet Lucy-Grace’s child. This ending, while nice when it comes to Tom’s character, does lack the final emotional pay-off for Isabel, a character that has lost so much and whose lasting memory of Lucy-Grace is losing her.
Now I know The Light Between Oceans is an adaptation but, for example, I Am Legend’s ending was changed for the worse, there was no reason why this film’s ending couldn’t have been changed for the better.