“Welcome to the Commonwealth” – this might sound very contemporary in Brexit times, but instead the period drama The Light between Oceans takes us back to the time immediately after World War I in Western Australia, then an inhospitable commonwealth territory. Traumatised war veteran Thomas Sherbourne, magnificently played by Michael Fassbender, accepts an unpopular position as lighthouse keeper on Janus Island. The starting point of the film and the loneliness of Fassbender set path for the epic and disturbing story of the couple Thomas and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and the price they pay for making the wrong choice.
The Light between Oceans is an adaptation of the eponymous novel by M.L. Stedman, directed by Derek Cianfrance, best known for Blue Valentine (2010). Cianfrance explained that at the age of eight or nine he imagined every home as an island. He collected his family’s secrets and confessions but didn’t make any use of those emotional memories until later on when he was given a copy of M.L. Stedman’s book. He then felt compelled to make the film.
Cianfrance is very careful in the way he extracts family revolutions and revelations from Thomas, Isabel and their small child Lucy-Grace. The unstable weather on Janus Island is somehow an extension of their emotions, cleverly expressed by the photography work of Adam Arkapaw. The beautiful sunrises and sunsets convey the tranquility of the time Thomas is on his own. The springiness of the Island during the discovery of love of the couple. The storm during the first natural miscarriage of Isabel. The grieving of the winds during Isabel’s miscarriages by the grave of her two dead babies over the hills. Or the whispering of the winds which brings the cry of the baby Lucy-Grace they find in an abandoned boat.
During the first part of the movie, Cianfrance builds the narrative around the relationship of the couple, until they suddenly find a dead man and a child in boat and decide to keep the child, making Isabel a mum and thereby helping her overcome her depression.
It’s in the introduction of the character Hannah Potts, played by Rachel Weisz, in the second half of the film that the other ocean (as in the the movie title) is revealed. Thomas finds out that Hannah is a widow and the biological mother of Lucy-Grace. The narrative suddenly takes a turn, examining the life story of Hannah and her late German husband.
The film then introduces a major dilemma: should Thomas and Isabel return the baby to her true mother or just carry on lying as if Lucy-Grace is their own baby?
The performance of Michael Fassbender is intense and delicate, portraying a man permanently dealing with his solace, in constant silence and unable to voice his emotions. Fassbender is the true light in this unabashed tearjerker. So don’t forget the tissues.
The Light between Oceans is part of official competition of the 73rd Venice Film Festival taking place right now. DMovies is live right now at the event bringing the best, dirtiest and the most though-provoking films exclusively for you.
You can watch the film trailer below: