When World War I veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns home to Australia, he settles into the solitary job of lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, an island whose rocky shore is subject to constant storms. He’s happy with the quiet and isolation.
But when a dinghy washes up on the beach with a dead man and a baby girl in it, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) immediately bonds with her. She wants to keep the child, but Tom (Fassbender) feels they must notify the authorities.
Adapted by Derek Cianfrance
In his most recent films, the writer/director Derek Cianfrance has crafted intimate portraits of family relationships with a distinct ability to draw out the most human aspects of those relationships. His acclaimed films Blue Valentine (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) both explore weighty themes of parenthood, legacy and fate in their own ways.
Cianfrance has always been drawn to fable-like stories that ask big questions and challenge the viewer with hard truths. That’s certainly the case with his latest film, the light between oceans, an adaptation of the best-selling novel by M. L. Stedman, which tells the story of a WWI veteran who takes up residence at a remote lighthouse on a secluded island off the coast of Australia.
As with his previous films, Cianfrance drew on Stedman’s writing to create authentic recreations of a unique and evocative time and place. He did this by re-visiting Janus Rock, an island off the western coast of Australia, as well as by filming the movie’s scenes on a real-life lighthouse in New Zealand.
He wanted to immerse the audience in this raw environment so that they would feel like they were in a world of their own making. It’s a vision that he achieved perfectly with the help of an exceptional cast, led by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.
But even with the evocative landscapes, Cianfrance says his film’s real focus was on the characters. He was interested in examining the way that a couple can love each other deeply yet still be torn apart by the choices they make.
And he was particularly interested in the idea of fable-like storytelling that can also offer a realistic depiction of how we experience love in the world around us. That’s a theme that runs throughout his cinematic work, and he was happy to see it play out in Stedman’s novel.
That’s what drew him to the book in the first place, and it’s that duality that Cianfrance hopes to explore in this new version. He tells OnWriting that he was attracted to the novel for its fable-like elements, but also because it made him stop and think about how he was living his own life in the moment.
Starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander met on the set of The Light Between Oceans in 2014, and they’ve been a couple ever since. The X-Men star and the Swedish actress tied the knot in October 2017 and have one child together, a son named Mark.
In the movie, Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a veteran who seeks solitude after fighting in the First World War. When he’s offered a job as lighthouse keeper on the remote Janus Rock, he accepts it, hoping for a new start. He is pleasantly surprised to find that the island and the local community are welcoming to him. But, as he tries to make sense of his war-scarred mind, he also starts falling in love with Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), a charming, young woman who makes him feel welcome even before he shows up at her home.
As they fall in love, the two marry and move to Janus Rock where they begin a family. But their romance is tinged with guilt. The couple wants to have children, but Isabel is unable to carry a baby to term. They’re eventually able to have their daughter, Lucy, but it’s not until she’s old enough to understand that she’s her own child that the relationship is truly sealed.
Vikander’s performance as Isabel is understated, but her emotions rip through her without a mask. She’s not a bad actor, but she doesn’t get to do much more than bare her heart here.
She’s not quite the same actress she was in The Constant Gardener and A Dangerous Method, but her performance here is a good bit better than her work in Fish Tank or A Dangerous Method. She doesn’t have the same acuity as Cotillard, but her emotional range is unmatched.
The chemistry between these two actors is very real, and they seem to have hit a resonant chord. The two are so in sync that their characters are sometimes referred to as husband and wife on screen.
They have kept their love life very private, but when they had their baby, the couple took to social media to announce the exciting news. They have a son named Mark and were married at the La Granja farmstead in Ibiza in October 2017.
This year, Michael Fassbender is gearing up for a busy awards season. He’s promoting Jojo Rabbit, which is coming out in February, and is about to start filming Taika Waititi’s Next Goal Wins about the American Samoa football team. He also has the upcoming action-thriller The Hunt, which hits theatres on May 4.
Based on the novel by M. L. Stedman
A melodrama with a side helping of mystery, Australian novelist Stedman’s debut is an exquisitely constructed morality tale. Set on a solitary lighthouse keeper’s island, it tells of a couple’s decision to adopt an infant whose mother escaped.
Tom Sherbourne returns to his native Australia after World War I, and after a period of emotional trauma becomes a lighthouse keeper on the remote Janus Rock. Though he and his wife Isabel are solitary, they have hopes of starting a family. But after several miscarriages and a premature baby, they have no children of their own. Despite the lulling comfort of their isolation, Tom and Isabel make an unexpected decision to keep a dinghy baby who washes up on their shores.
The premise, while not particularly original, is certainly intriguing and the characters, although a bit overdeveloped at times, are well-written and likeable. There are some minor quibbles with the way that Stedman emphasizes her duality motif, but she manages to make the case for a couple who have divergent views on the best way to raise their child.
It’s a testament to the skill of Stedman’s writing that she is able to sustain a story that is 300 plus pages long without skipping a beat. That’s a pretty good feat for a debut novel, and one that will no doubt prove to be a popular read in the years to come.
While the novel is a little slow to get going, it never loses its momentum and eventually delivers a heart-wrenching, ultimately satisfying conclusion. It’s a work that will likely leave you feeling a little unsettled, but it’s also an impressive piece of writing that will stay with you for weeks to come.
Even if you’ve never heard of the book, its a must-read for those interested in the nuances of war, the isolation of communities, and the complexities of morality. Its a complex, moving story, and its an excellent introduction to a young writer with a lot more to say.
Stedman is a first-time author who has done an admirable job of creating characters who are likeable, fallible, and warmly written. The novel is also quite beautiful in its descriptions of the island and its surroundings, which add to the overall sense of place.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Cianfrance, whose melodrama Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines were among the best of their kind, is a director devoted to making long, epic stories that leave nothing out. His new film is a beautiful, heartbreaking tale of a couple trying to make peace with their past while fighting for their future.
The Light Between Oceans is a surging and swirling emotional melodrama that tugs at your heartstrings like it’s ringing in the new year. It’s based on the 2012 novel by M. L. Stedman and features a stunning cast including Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.
While this is a very good film, it has a few flaws that weaken the entire experience. The pacing is erratic, with too many protracted endings that dilute the emotional resonance of some truly moving scenes. And there are some reshoots that suggest a clumsy attempt to fit too much into one film.
In the first half of the film, the chemistry between Fassbender and Vikander is beautiful as they struggle with the loss of their children. Their characters are both deeply rooted in their respective histories, but they can’t help but feel a little bit disconnected at times.
When the story introduces a second thread, involving the mother of the lost child, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), it becomes a much more focused and complex drama that uses escalating moral consequence to explore a range of interpersonal conflicts. The film is essentially in Cianfrance’s wheelhouse and is gorgeously served by a cornucopia of performances that truly deserve your attention.
This is the directing debut of Australian actor Derek Cianfrance, whose work has been seen in movies such as Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines. He told IndieWire in an interview that he was drawn to this story because it gave him the chance to get out of his head and focus on other people.
The light between oceans is a beautiful, heartbreaking tale of two people struggling to make peace with their past while fighting for a better future. It’s based on the 2012 bestseller by M. L. Stedman and includes a stunning cast including Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz.