‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a disappointing film with a promising start

Grade C

By: 
AARON JENNINGS AARON@LEBANONDAILYRECORD.COM

Of all the movies I was looking forward to in 2016, “The Light Between Oceans” was at the top of my list. Not the tippy top, but up there with “La La Land,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “The Nice Guys,” which is why this good movie was still a bit of a disappointment.
 
I’m a sucker for a good movie trailer and this movie’s trailer about how a couple who can’t have a baby of their own decide to take one that doesn’t belong to them, has everything I enjoy. Dramatic piano music, soft narration, scenery camera shots that give the audience a sense of the film’s atmosphere and great actors who aren’t afraid to put everything they have into a performance.
 
It's possible that I am disappointed with this movie because I expected a different outcome. Reading the book may have prevented this, but I feel my disapproval goes beyond the plot. Once the story shifts, it’s no longer interesting. Instead, all I could do was marvel at the impressive performances by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. I didn’t enjoy what they had to say. I liked how they said it. Even more so than the movie as a whole. It’s unfortunate. This movie had such a promising start.
 
The story begins on a small island in Australia. The island area looks like a small coast town in Europe. Tom Sherbourne, played by  Fassbender, has just returned from battle after World War I. He’s troubled from the horrors he’s seen, but he doesn’t talk about his service or anything else for that matter. He wants to be alone and takes a job as a light-keeper on the beautiful Janus Rock.
 
As Tom walks to have dinner with a kind family before he starts his work, he sees a young woman named Isabel Graysmark (wonderfully played by Vikander). Isabel, who is full of spirit, is an attractive woman he’ll soon marry. Tom doesn’t know this yet, but Isabel does.
 
Tom’s work at the lighthouse is dull. He makes notes in a logbook and makes sure the light is on during the night. As expected by the man who hired him, Tom is lonely and longs for company. Thankfully, the lovely Isabelle is near, and the two start exchanging letters after Isabel encourages Tom to marry her.
 
Theses early scenes of romance are enchanting — very enchanting indeed. Jane Austen enthusiasts like myself get excited when characters exchange letters, but this dating period only lasts a few minutes. 
Once Tom and Isabel marry, the real story begins. Isabel suffers two miscarriages in three years.
 
The pain and suffering in Vikander’s eyes show us how horrifying this real-life tragedy can be, and how special she is as an actress.
 
But all is not lost. As Tom watches from the lighthouse and Isabel lies next to the graves of her two children, they simultaneously notice a rowboat containing a dead man and a newborn baby girl near the shore. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything in the movie that wasn’t in the trailer.
 
Tom thinks he should send a flare and tell someone of the find, but Isabel insists this is a miracle. She fears the newborn will wind up at an orphanage making it impossible for them to adopt. Here lies the ultimate question: Is it wrong to keep the child as your own? What if the parents love the child more than life itself? More importantly, what do you do when you meet the actual mother of the child who’s life has been a disaster since she lost her husband and her child at sea?
 
The characters in “The Light Between Oceans” answers all of these questions while showing us how guilt can drive a person mad. How easy it is to forgive, and how far someone will go to save a loved one.
Like the recent release of “The Girl on the Train,” which is also inspired by a best-selling novel, “The Light Between Oceans” struggles to give viewers an experience outside the memory of the book. Is the book even that good to begin with? After watching the movie, I don’t think I’ll give the book a chance. 
 
I’m sure the creators hoped this would be as memorable of a period drama as “Howard’s End” and “The Remains of the Day.” Sadly, it’s not even close. Fassbender and Vikander, who allegedly fell in love while they were filming, keep most of the movie afloat.
 
Don’t let me confuse you with my rambling. This is a good movie. It’s just not as good as it should be — or could have been — if the writing were half as good as the directing, acting, cinematography, and score. I’m willing to recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys the drama genre, but I’m not sure if anyone will like it. Part of it, sure. Just not all of it.

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