Conviction Propels “Oceans”
Where The Light Between Oceans is concerned, you have to give director Derek Cianfrance and his cast credit – they’re fully committed to making the audience weep and will go to any length to make this happen. Unabashedly romantic, this adaptation of the novel by M.L. Stedman ticks off every element on the list of necessaries for a big screen love story; a man with a tragic past – a young woman intent on getting him out of his shell – a tragedy – a tragedy – a miracle - a deception – a misunderstanding and finally a heartrending resolution that’s sure to cause hitching sobs from all who buy into this premise.
Having survived World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender, channeling Burt Lancaster here) seeks solace from the horrors he’s witnessed and accepts a job to maintain a lighthouse off the coast of Western Australia. There, he finds the peace he seeks but realizes he needs something more and finds that in Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), a progressive young woman who eagerly agrees to marry Sherbourne and raise a family with him. However, after two miscarriages, it becomes apparent that she will not be able to bare any children. But as fate, and Stedman’s heavy-handed approach would have it, a dinghy washes ashore one day with a dead man and wailing baby aboard. Desperate to keep the child, Isabel convinces her husband to bury the man and pretend the baby is theirs. Initially hesitant to go along, Sherbourne capitulates and seals his fate by entering into this deception.
To tell you more would be cruel but it should come as no surprise that this secret eventually sees the light of day and harsh consequences must be paid. While the plot summary and my tone suggest this is akin to the trite machinations of a Nicholas Sparks novel, “Light” is more in keeping with the work of Thomas Hardy (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles) whose novels often focused on people brought low due to an event from their past coming to light. Cianfrance manages to create a reverent tone to compliment the work, never allowing the film to slip too far into melodrama though the plot surely works against him at times. That he’s able to keep at least one narrative foot planted firmly in reality is some kind of miracle, one that saves the movie.
This, as well as the stellar work from Fassbender and Vikander, makes this a worthwhile enterprise. These two veterans fully inhabit their roles, their fierce performances defying us not to buy into this couples’ plight. Neither performer takes half-measures as their pain, elation and fear are palpable, all of which gives weight to the story, particularly in the final, haunting scene which brings a sense of closure to their actions and lives. Scoff if you will, but The Light Between Oceans is a movie with heart, a quality that’s far too rare in this era of bombastic filmmaking.