Tuesday, September 6
REVIEW: The Light Between Oceans
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
2016 Romance Drama
1 hour 32 minutes
I would have seen this film no matter what. I don't miss serious Michael Fassbender films and though I knew almost nothing about it until I saw previews weeks ago, I knew it was serious. Oh yes, it's very serious. For some it will be too somber. I saw it as a film about profound sorrow and I found myself constantly wondering through the viewing if it was going to turn out all right or would it end up being one of the saddest films I've seen in years.
Serious films need to take us somewhere emotionally. I call them those movies one can't stop thinking about for hours, day, weeks or longer. Maybe they shock or frighten. Perhaps it provokes anger. Maybe sadness. I have seen films that move me in ways of love and tender caring. It is such a pleasure when a film can stir my emotions. When that happens, I always suspect that the writer wanted me to feel exactly as I do. In this case... sorrow. I am his pawn.
We begin in the early 1920s off the coast of western Australia. A rather beaten-down man returns from the war in Europe and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper. He's not much for idle chatter so it may be a case of the right man for the right job. He meets a young woman and each is immediately smitten with the other and they quickly marry.
The early part of the film provides a lovely glimpse into the rush of romance. We watch as they learn about one another and become accustomed to their remote location. They are obviously in love and each is a giving, caring and supportive partner.
One day he spots a rowboat adrift off his shores. It contains a dead man and a living baby. The lives of our couple and the tone of the film change at this point. The couple has differing points of view about what to do about both occupants of the rowboat but they elect to keep the child and claim it as their own (she had been pregnant but no one knew she miscarried) and to bury the man. A few years later they come across the child's real mother.
And here is the crux of the story. Should the little girl be turned over to her natural mother or should the focus be on her staying with the only parents she can remember, whom she dearly loves. Of course there would be many who would feel strongly one way or the other and plenty who would feel that no matter which decision is reached, all adults should be in the child's life.
The answer is not as cut and dried and the film addresses it as the complex issue it is. My heart always went out to real-life people involved in this situation over the years and it did so again here. How could any engaged audience member not have feelings of dread wondering how is this going to turn out?
The Light Between Oceans was a first-time novel by Australian M. L. Stedman, published in 2012. It was apparently quite popular, although I did not read it. Had I done so, I might understand the title, which I clearly do not, and can't say as the film enlightened me. It seems another one of those titles that hasn't a ghost of a chance of drawing patrons unless, of course, one read the novel.
The director, Derek Cianfrance, also adapted the screenplay and I hope someone notices what a good job he did in both areas. He is the director of two oddball Ryan Gosling movies, Blue Valentine (2010), which I liked, and The Place Beyond the Pines (2014), which I did not like. Light is a handsomely mounted period piece. Australia and New Zealand look very appealing, reminding us that Cianfrance is known for his visually-appealing work. But I see his writing of this one as his best work with characters who have some texture and a story with no fat or waste and told straight-forwardly. While I did get a little misty-eyed, I would not call this a weepie, as such, and doubt that this was Cianfrance's objective as a director or writer. It has an adult point of view on an important subject.
The acting all around was all it needed to be but special mention must be made of Fassbender and Vikander because they became a real-life couple after meeting on this film. That fact no doubt gives rise to my pleasure at watching their characters' romance blossom at the beginning of the film. She, in fact, asked director Cianfrance if she could be in it after she read that Fassbender had been signed.
I think Fassbender is a huge talent and certainly one of the reasons actors from the U.K. are so highly-regarded. I am completely taken with his facial expressions, so emotional, revealing and honest. He seems to completely inhabit his characters. I think he is a marvelous villain and anti-hero but he has been a hit with me in low-key roles such as this one.
I'm not sure how I feel about Vikander, last year's Oscar-winning best supporting actress. In her few films that I have seen, she seems so dour and I can't see an entire career in such roles although it is most fitting for the second half of this film. On the other hand, in the romantic first part, she smiled and smiled and smiled. Maybe a real romance with Fassbender does that for a lass.
Another Oscar-winning best supporting actress, Rachel Weisz, is completely believable as the child's real mother but she isn't given a lot to do.
I feel the same about Australian actors as I do those from the U.K. in that they are immensely talented. It's always great to see that big ol' lug, Jack Thompson, again. He first caught my attention in The Man from Snowy River and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and seeing him is akin to eating comfort food. I haven't seen Bryan Brown in anything in years but he was his usual authoritative self as Weisz's father. Florence Clery, as the 4-year old girl, is adorable.
I saw this movie at a matinee by myself. There was a woman in my row, a few seats away, also alone. We never spoke until the film ended. We were the only two who stayed for the credits and when they were over, as we got up, she said boy, aren't we lucky we came to see this? You've probably gathered that I agreed.
A brilliant actor, C.L.