15th November 2016

The Light Between Oceans : a two-hour perfume commercial

Derek Cianfrance’s new film offers a wide range of aesthetically-pleasing footage. Unfortunately, his character development is not as pleasing
The Light Between Oceans : a two-hour perfume commercial
Photo: Heyday Films

Being someone who easily bursts into tears during weepie movies, The Light Between Oceans was a thorough disappointment. Based on M.L. Stedman’s novel, the movie follows the story of an Australian lighthouse keeper, Tom (Michael Fassbender) and his wife, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) as they struggle to create the family they have always wanted on the far off, uninhabited Janus Rock.

After two unfortunate miscarriages, it seems that the couple will never be able to hold a child in their arms. However, almost immediately after the second miscarriage, a rowboat appears in the distance carrying a crying baby and her dead father. The biblical miracle seems suspiciously well-timed. Nonetheless, after a few minutes of deliberation both Tom and Isabel decide to raise the child as their own, naming her Lucy.

All is well for the first two years, until they go back to the mainland where Tom spots a woman mourning her husband and daughter who were lost at sea two years ago. At that moment he realises the gravity of his and Isabel’s decision and is haunted by the guilt.

Albeit it takes him another two years before he lets his own guilt destroy the family life he and Isabel had striven to build. As a way of making amends, he sends Hannah (Rachel Weisz), the biological mother, the toy which he found next to his adopted daughter on the boat.

Unfortunately, thanks to this little gift, Hannah is able to track down Lucy, thus ensuing the legal battle for motherhood. What should follow are the movie’s most heart-breaking moments, shots to keep you grabbing at tissues wherever you may find them.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Although the acting is impeccable, the characters themselves are difficult to sympathise with. True, Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz are all incredible actors that possess the skills to transmit a wide range of raw emotion. Yet, there is something about these two-dimensional characters which inhibits the viewer from feeling a ‘connection’ with them.

Firstly, there is a lack of character development. Although the camera examines the actors from various angles, the viewer is nonetheless left with limited insight into the characters.

There was something Twilight-esque about Light Between Oceans in that it was a film about beautiful people who know how to give penetrating stares. The overall aesthetics of the movie were impressive: gorgeous actors, breath-taking views, poetic lighting. But all this served was to create the impression of an elongated perfume commercial, rather than a 2-hour film.

Secondly, having watched this with someone who had read the book, it quickly became obvious that Derek Cianfrance had counted on the majority of his viewers to have read the book. Perhaps this is where most of the character development can be found. In any case, as a viewer who has not read the book, you cannot help but feel as if much of what was written was given up in order to make room for more commercial footage.

Overall, The Light Between Oceans is perfect for those who would love to see different shots Michael Fassbender or Alicia Vikander in period drag, or for those who dream of travelling to New Zealand and Tanzania, where the film was shot. However, for those who would like to see a film worthy of their tears, I would recommend saving your money for another movie.

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