Sweeping romantic dramas seem to be far less common these days, appearing sparsely in screens where the rom-com or the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation tends to dominate. Therefore, for fans of the genre, The Light Between Oceans is a real treat, combining fantastic lead performances, a genuinely though-provoking plot and an artful mix of stunning score and scenery.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines), the story begins with the arrival of traumatised ex-soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) to a sleepy town in Western Australia. Seeking solitude, he takes up the post of the lightkeeper on remote island Janus Rock, a job that requires isolation for several years on end.
On a brief visit back to the mainland, Tom falls in love with local girl Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and the two start to make a life together on their small island. Despite their love, life on the island is hard and their strong union is tested by two miscarriages. When a boat appears on the beach containing a tiny baby, the grief-stricken couple make a choice that will shape the rest of their lives.
The plot is based on a novel of the same name by M.L. Stedman, and it’s easy to identify the film as an adaptation. Everything is carefully plotted out, nothing ever drags and the characters are beautifully complex. Fassbender and Vikander are electric together, giving heartbreaking performances that are full of vulnerability and inner conflict. Expect some awards buzz for the Oscars this year and we’ll likely see a nomination for Fassbender in the Best Actor category, although Vikander’s nomination sadly may be less certain in a highly competitive, and more showy, category.
Stylistically, The Light Between Oceans is also everything you’d want from a romantic drama. The setting has a huge and beautiful presence, whilst Alexandre Desplat’s delicate score continues the composer’s seemingly unbreakable streak of fantastic work.
Ultimately, the film’s biggest strength is its central dilemma. With the appearance of Rachel Weisz’s character (another fantastic performance), the moral problem of Tom and Isabel’s choices becomes even more difficult to solve, with a complexity that’s reminiscent of Ian McEwen’s novel Atonement.
The film allows you to see both sides, to understand the pain of each and to feel as lost and powerless as the characters do themselves. If anybody that can come out of the film and see a clear answer in the dilemma it presents, I’d be surprised. Yet most of all, it’s a piercing look at the idea of devoted love, and the sacrifices that can come with making the person you love happy.
At a time when fantastic romantic screen dramas are rare, this film felt even more valuable. The beauty of The Light Between Oceans, the emotional performances and the ideas presented permeated my mind for days afterwards – and probably will for many days to come.
The Light Between Oceans is out in cinemas now.
For a closer look at the film, check out the trailer below: