The Light Between Oceans stars, at the time at least, real-life acting couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as a lighthouseman and his wife; Lee reviewed it.
Loss, the great unraveller, is an experience so universal we human beings can’t even claim it as our own, as we have seen it in dogs and whales and other such emotional beasts. For storytelling, this becomes an issue: if everyone has a say on your topic of choice, because everyone has experienced it in some shape or form, then the scrutiny must force you to either focus solely on a singular perspective so as to communicate your thoughts as clearly and effectively as possible, or represent the topic from an angle wholly original and transcend the literal so as to better the general. You cannot dabble into double-meanings, or use as a launch-pad, without risking a hollow tone.
The Light Between Oceans does communicate a number of important themes and ideas. One is that of guilt; knowing your actions can and have harmed another, even without their knowing, can tear away at the happiness we build for ourselves with what we are given. Through the eyes of Tom, and eventually Isobel, we get a solid exploration of how we can seek to destroy ourselves once guilt has eaten away at us for too long, and its effective enough to be involving.
There’s the notion of forgiveness; if we have lived a good life and continue to while others suffer, how can we forgive ourselves when we choose not to help? And when should we forgive those who knowingly hurt us, or betrayed us, and why should we, and how should we? There are reasonable questions asked here, and the occasional answers given are not entirely wrong, which is something.
What of loneliness, and pain, and the need for companionship, and the need for family, and the hierarchy of those needs? There are some interesting explorations of human conflicts present in The Light Between Ocean, and while not every one of them hits home as hard as they should, their impact of the characters should feel real enough to register with even passive audiences.
Registered with all of the above, as with almost all things, is loss; but the specific loss addressed in this narrative is the loss of a child. In this case, there are three children lost, and each has their effects and their affected. Yet the story does not have the time to truly represent the tragedy of the longer hours, the waiting and hoping and awful blaming. It hints at the reasons for which Isobel becomes more desperate for a child, and what it does show us it shows us with strong imagery and deep repercussions; however, the story eagerly pushes on and assumes the audience simply know the rest. And perhaps on some level, that’s true; we all know loss and we all should be able to empathise with Isobel and Tom’s grief over their lost children. Yet to rest all future character decisions on a half-explored, half-represented notion via montage feels reckless and, ultimately, erodes much of the audience’s connection with the characters’ decisions as the story progresses.
Unsurprisingly, the story is an adaptation of a novel, and it feels as such; a short-hand version of longer, more detailed recount of a young couple and their choices in life. Which works while watching, it has enough performance-wise and reveal-wise to keep a two-hour story moving, but the spectre of deeper character insight makes this feel like a movie of grand swathes and broad strokes more than the collection of smaller touches that it obviously should be.
There’s plenty to attach to in the gorgeous visuals, and there is more than enough sympathy to go around, though the near-abandonment of Isobel’s side of the story in the final act for Tom’s self-hatred almost makes the previous events read as one man’s burden; the last thing you want your incredibly human story of loss, especially for a mother, to come across as.
The Light Between Oceans is a competent, well-put-together foray into subject matter too heavy to really effectively explore given the constraints of the medium, which will ultimately leave the masses with a ‘sop story’ vibe and critics with a divisive want of a film.