The Light Between Oceans
Cert: 12A / 133 mins / Dir. Derek Cianfrance / Trailer
And what better way to round off a #FilmDay of existential guilt and societal guilt than with a movie all about familial guilt? Yay, cinema!
Set shortly after the First World War, surviving veteran Tom (Michael Fassbender) returns home to Australia and takes a posting on a remote lighthouse, hoping for the solitude to reflect on his experiences and a job in which can still contribute to society. After falling in love with, and marrying Isabel (Alicia Vikander), she moves with him to his island, but the two find themselves unable to successfully have children. When a lone rowing boat drifts ashore holding only a dead man and a surviving baby, they're faced with the choice of whether to pass the infant over to the authorities or care for it as their own. Spoiler: they do the second one. What could go wrong? Especially when a woman on the mainland (Hannah, Rachel Weisz) begins to suspect that her daughter is still alive...
Although it's marketed as a romantic drama, The Light Between Oceans goes much deeper than most beach-set weepies, touching on guilt, miscarriage, loneliness, guilt, loss, duty, sacrifice and guilt. Fassbender and Weisz are great as expected here, but Vikander really steals the show, being able to externalise her performance more. The film evidences fantastic direction from Derek Cianfrance too, by which I mean that he's been able to prevent Fassbender from autipiloting into his Irish accent in every other scene (cf almost everything MF has done where his character isn't Irish to begin with).
Combine this with some breathtaking photography of the Australian coast, and it's a film which holds your attention throughout. Speaking of Antipodeans, it's kind of fitting that a film set in Australia should feature such a prominent screenwriters' boomerang as the silver baby-rattle which Tom finds in the rowing boat with the infant. As soon as he slips it into his pocket before setting the boat back out to sea, everyone in the room thinks "yep, we'll be seeing that again before much longer…"
But the only real downside is that the ending of the film feels rushed, with too many previously established plot-points barely even hinted at, never mind fully illustrated for completion. It's almost as if there had been a specific run-time allotted by the distributor, but the producers had been loath to cut any of the earlier material. While this sounds like a facetious exaggeration, many of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw's stunning land and seascape shots feel like they've been cut short by editors Jim Helton and Ron Patane, seemingly in a bid to save precious seconds for a denouement which needs more minutes. We also get some flashbacks courtesy of Hannah surrounding the disappearance of her husband and daughter, which would be fine if Captain Birdseye hadn't spent five minutes telling the same story to Tom in another scene fifteen minutes earlier. It's a very slapdash edit for such a delicate story.
But, for a film of this genre to have engaged me so much, it really must be something special. I haven't even got kids, god alone knows what the parents in the audience were feeling.
+ + + + +
Before I go, a couple of things which crossed my mind during the film:
• Why do we see Fassbender and Vikander up and about during the day so much? 'Lighthouse Keeper' is pretty much permanent night-shift, isn't it? Making sure the flame doesn't go out (this is 1921, pre electrification. Plus, it's on an uninhabited island) and logging everything which does happen in a journal. The place isn't needed as such during the day, so shouldn't Tom be getting his head down so he can spend all night looking out of a massive round window?
• The long-shots of the isolated island show the mountainous section in the middle dwarfing the lighthouse. If the landmass is, as Tom says, between two oceans (rather than being a mainland coastal installation), surely you'd want a lighthouse at both ends of the island? What about those cats sailing in from the other side? They can hope to float the rest of the way on the wreckage of their ships, right?
I don't know very much about lighthouses. Although as long as I had a fast broadband connection and a massive fridge to keep the beer cold, the job sounds ideal.
Oh, and how come Waltzing Matilda isn't a waltz? You had one job, mate…
Difficult to say, 'earnest weepie' isn't really my genre.
As much as I enjoyed it, this is a Sunday night DVD with a bottle of red.
Despite sometimes working against itself, yes.
Although the bar was already high for Alicia Vikander, this could well be a career-best, yes.
Not at all.
Level 2: The film stars Alicia Vikander of course, who rocked up in Ex Machina last year alongside Domhnall 'Hux' Gleeson and Oscar 'Dameron' Isaac.
(although that's a six for the performances and direction, not the pacing or editing)
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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