Sunday, September 18, 2016

Films of 2016: "The Light Between Oceans"


When it comes to romance dramas, most people will think of Nicholas Sparks novels. Others may think of Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" series, while others may recall Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore romancing to pottery. And then there are the romance dramas that exceed such mere fleeting emotions as love-at-first-sight and encompass the universal realities, joys and heartaches of love. 

"The Light Between Oceans," based on the novel by M.L. Stedman (and written for the screen by director Derek Cianfrance) tells the powerful and heartbreaking story of a Post-World War I married couple who live on an island overseeing the lighthouse off the coast of Western Australia. Tom Sherbourne and Isabel Graysmark (the extraordinary Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander) have experienced many a tragedy in their lives and are looking to settle not only as husband and wife, but also (and hopefully) as mother and father. But after a few miscarriages, the couple begin to lose hope. Until they hear cries coming from an adrift rowboat offshore, which carries a baby girl and her deceased father. Was this a coincidence? Was this destined? Should they report to the authorities (as Tom believes they rightfully should) or should they claim the baby as their own (as Isabel pleads, out of desperation), all by the insistence of one small lie? 

Alicia Vikander
This may all sound weepy and sentimental, like a Sparks novel or Lifetime flick. But Cianfrance is not one to go with such conventions. As he demonstrated in his previous films "Blue Valentine" (2010) and "The Place Beyond the Pines" (2012), sentimentality works more effectively (if more powerfully-wrenching) when it's bare-boned and shaken to its core. And only actors as good and accomplished as Fassbender and Vikander could make us believe in, empathize, and even question these characters' motives, doubts, self-conflicts, and questions of forgiveness, especially when they meet the little girl's biological mother (a stellar Rachel Weisz) years later. The same could be said for the film's structure, which is a little unnerving to sit through at times. But it ultimately pays off in a poetic and compelling story of raw emotion, tender yet complex love, and ultimate forgiveness. 

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