The Light Between Oceans

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, and Florence Clery. Also Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, and Garry McDonald. Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Rated M (Mature themes and a sex scene). 133 min.

 This multinational film is a romantic drama based on the 2012 novel of the same name written by Australian author, M. L. Stedman. It tells the story of a lighthouse keeper and his young wife, who find a young baby in a rowboat which washes up at the island of Janus Rock, a remote outcrop of land off the coast of Western Australia. They raise the child as their own, and later discover her true identity.

 Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a stressed war veteran from World War I who accepts the position of the lighthouse keeper in 1918, seeking solitude after the trauma of his war experiences. While in town, Tom falls in love with a local girl, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander) and marries her, and she goes with him to live as his wife in the lighthouse.

 On the island, Isabel has multiple miscarriages and becomes consumed by the desire to have a child. She and Tom bury two still-born children, and Isabel sinks slowly into deep depression. When the rowboat carrying a dead man and a baby girl washes up on the Island, Tom knows he should report what he found to the authorities. Isabel, however, persuades him to claim the child as their own. They bury the man, who is the baby's father, and name the child, Lucy, and they raise Lucy with loving, "parental" care.

 Isabel and Tom return to town to christen Lucy, where Tom sees a grieving woman, Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz) in the church's graveyard. He suspects Hannah is the child's real mother when he sees her kneeling beside a grave for father and child marked "lost at sea". Wanting "to do what's right", he leaves a letter for Hannah telling her that her child is safe and sound, and later he sends her one of her child's toys which Hannah recognises. Isabel is distraught that Tom is willing to give Lucy away. Her marriage to Tom shatters, and Tom is arrested and charged with the murder of Lucy's father. Isabel finally confesses to the Police what she has done, and Lucy as a grown woman (Florence Clery) visits Tom after Hannah has died, and thanks him for what he and Isabel did for her as a young child.

 The story of the film has all the elements and trademarks of grand melodrama. It is that, but it is also a compelling tale of the moral dilemmas faced by two people who take advantage of circumstance to raise a child whom they know is not their own. Scenes of the lighthouse and the Island capture dramatically the isolation of the ill-fated couple, and the film's visual imagery beautifully anticipates the tragedy to come. The child saves the couple's marriage for a time, but sets the stage for the eventual destruction of their relationship.

 The movie tells us that a wrong that is done should never be perpetuated; a mother's love should not be denied; and a relationship cannot last that is based on falsehood. This is serious drama about related moral themes, and the acting which supports them is uniformly excellent. Michael Fassbender is one of the best actors on the cinema screen today, and he is outstanding in demonstrating the moral conflict between love and duty. He brings quiet, dramatic resolve to his role, and delivers commandingly a moral tale of love that is heart-wrenching. The performances in the film are effective, emotionally intense, and understated.

 The film is shot in a very scenic location, and it sets one thinking about motherhood, duty, personal responsibility, and parental rights. Though executed sentimentally, it digs movingly into relationship truths. This is a movie that is highly watchable and enjoyable. It is well crafted, well-acted and directed, and is a deliberately unsettling film about moral compromise.

 Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released November 4, 2016