Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Premise: Set just after World War I, a lighthouse keeper and his wife live on an isolated island and struggle to make a baby. A rowboat carrying an infant washes up on shore and the couple takes the child as their own.
What Works: The Light Between Oceans has a distinguished cast who provide solid performances. The movie is led by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as a couple who meet, marry, and then struggle with pregnancy. Fassbender and Vikander are terrific actors with a sweet romantic rapport but they are also able to ratchet up the melodrama. The cast also includes Rachel Weisz as the parent of a missing child and she conveys the grief of a mother who has lost of her family. The Light Between Oceans takes place in the early 20th Century and it has an authentic look for the period in the costumes and sets. The film looks of its time but it also appears lived in with organic details that complete the illusion. The Light Between Oceans is also appealingly shot with some picturesque imagery of the ocean and the natural environs and it has a romantic music score by Alexander Desplat. The composer does what he can to compensate for the movie’s lack of an emotional impact.
What Doesn’t: The Light Between Oceans is a melodrama and what audiences want from a movie like this is heartache. Melodramas exist to put the audience through an emotional wringer that usually ends in cathartic tears. The Light Between Oceans doesn’t do that. The movie is really boring. The story takes forever to get going; the baby doesn’t arrive until nearly a third of the way into the picture and the narrative has no sense of escalation. Part of the problem is that the story makes big leaps forward in time. The courtship between Fassbender and Vikander’s characters is accomplished in a montage. After the infant washes up on the island, the movie jumps years ahead. And then in the finale The Light Between Oceans leaps ahead another half a century. The story doesn’t transition well from one time period to the next but more importantly the film skips over the moments that define the characters and their relationships. This absence is really apparent in the romance. The lovers of a romantic story need to do things that visualize their feelings for each other. This movie doesn’t have those moments. Instead, The Light Between Oceans depends on the physical attractiveness of Fassbender and Vikander to fill in the rationale but it’s not enough. The start-and-stop pacing also hurts the movie because there’s nothing tangible at stake until the ending. No one is really fighting over anything and there is virtually no conflict in the story. That flaw is an outgrowth of the movie’s lack of focus. It seems as though the filmmakers of The Light Between Oceans weren’t quite sure what this film is actually about. There are nuggets of ideas but they’re not sufficiently dramatized and they don’t cohere. The film is initially about Michael Fassbender’s character and his post-traumatic stress from his World War I experience. Then the movie shifts gears to become about the links between mother and child with Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz’s characters fighting over parental rights. And in its final portion The Light Between Oceans changes its focus again to love, commitment, and forgiveness between a married couple. The movie has a fragmented feel and it never develops any of these ideas into a coherent story with a beginning a middle and an end. Especially underwritten is Rachel Weisz’s character as the child’s biological mother. The film raises an interesting question about what it is to be a mother but it doesn’t follow those issues anywhere interesting.
Bottom Line: The Light Between Oceans is a slog. The movie looks good and the actors do what they can but there’s no dramatic substance to it. It plays as a knock off of a Nicholas Sparks film, better shot but lacking even the hokey romantic tropes that make Sparks’ films appealing to his audience.
Episode: #611 (September 11, 2016)