THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (UK/US/India/New Zealand 2016) **
Directed by Derek Cianfance
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Review by Gilbert Seah
Based on the recent 2012 best-selling novel of the same name by M.L. Stedman, THE LIGHT BETWEEN THE OCEANS is the lighthouse, around which the period story revolves.
The main character in the story is Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender). Tom has apparently killed lots of Germans in World War 1 and is surprised that he is still alive, believing that God has given him a second chance in life. The film should cater to the ‘faith’ crowd, whose market has been quite lucrative lately. When the film opens, Tom successfully lands a contract to work as a lighthouse keeper. He and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander) are living off the coast in Western Australia. But their perfect marriage is marred by two miscarriages, so that Isabel is desperate in having a baby. One day, the couple rescue a baby girl who has washed up on an adrift rowboat and decide to informally adopt her as their own, whom they name Lucy. But as Lucy grows older, Tom and Isabel discover the consequences of raising the child when a visit to the mainland and an encounter with a particular woman (Rachel Weisz) threatens to break apart their blissfully happy family. This woman is Lucy’s real mother.
The music is provided by veteran French composer Alexandre Desplat whose score occasionally sinks into extreme melancholy.
Apart from the location setting of the novel, one wonders what impressed the studios to be interested in the material. The story, though ideal for a romantic drama, has too many coincidences to be believable. The characters of the novel all go to extremes in behaviour. Tom is super stoic, Isabel is too extreme in wanting a husband and a baby while Hannah is too forgiving and moody. Then there is the fact that a baby conveniently shows up when the couple wants one.
Cianfrance’s film is extremely slow and the word ‘ponderous’ is the perfect word to describe the film. Being able to look wooden appears to be the pre-requisite for acting in this film. The last few scenes with Fassbender involves him sitting very still, with no movement of his facial muscles and staring out into the open. When visited by his long lost ‘daughter’, he seems to be in another world of his own. This is Fassbender’s most stoic performance of his career.
It does not help either that Cianfracne’s film runs for more than 2 hours. His other drama, the smaller budget BLUE VALENTINE was never this slow.
As expected for a period piece set in a remote area near the end of the world, THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS is a handsomely mounted film, especially the segments where the lighthouse can be seen amidst the landscape of ocean and rocky outcrop. The film was shot in and around New Zealand as well as in the island of Tasmania. If there is anything the film should be seen for, it is the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw.