'The Light Between Oceans' Is A Shallow Emotional Journey
By Andrea Thompson
Well, some movies just exist to give you the feels. It's a much easier sell for teenagers, but when it's a period piece with adults, you gotta work harder. “The Light Between Oceans” doesn't seem to think it needs to. It's certainly easy to see why. Not only does it have Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, and Rachel Weisz, it has writer-director Derek Cianfrance of “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond The Pines.” But just like the latter movie was hampered by a strong sense of its own worth, so too is “Light.”
Vikander and Fassbender are Isabel and Tom, who meet cute and marry cuter. Tom is a damaged loner, more damaged by the horrors of WWI. He seeks solitude, and finds it as a keeper of an isolated lighthouse, which Isabel also immediately loves. The two soon make it a ridiculously blissful home, bolstered by the real-life couple's chemistry. But their happiness is threatened when Isabel miscarries twice. It turns her longing for children into desperation, so when a dead man and an infant wash up on their beach, Isabel persuades her husband not to report it and raise the baby as their own.
For a few years, this ungenerous choice does indeed wash away the couple's unhappiness and we get a montage of adorable family moments, along with their just as adorable daughter. But the nearby town is a small one, and Isabel and Tom eventually discover just what they have done when they learn of Rachel Weisz's Hannah, still mourning the loss of the husband and child she believes are dead. Soon, Tom finds it harder to live with himself, and both he and his wife must face the consequences of their actions.
Once they do, the movie becomes more and more uneven. “The Light Between Oceans” was made for exploring (simplistic) feelings, not facts, and once the movie has to portray events, things fall apart, with Isabel in particular acting as an example of all the monstrous selfishness love can breed. If the movie didn't justify her feelings and actions, this could be a fascinating exploration of the mother-daughter bond, especially when you have Rachel Weisz as a counterpart.
“The Light Between Oceans” mentions the changes that isolation can bring in people as vulnerable as Tom and Isabel without really exploring it. But strip away all the marks of prestige, and it's about as deep and as realistic as a Lifetime movie, reduced to just another predictable homage to the power of forgiveness. Perhaps a few scenes could have been added at the end, which feels rushed and rather abrupt. Isabel and Tom more than get their due, but Weisz doesn't really get hers. She must become a saintly victim to garner our sympathies. Once that happens, the movie loses interest in her, and in pretty much everyone else when Vikander and Fassbender aren't present. The three of them give reliably great performances, but when their characters basically amount to little more than cardboard cutouts, there's not much even actors of this caliber can do.