The Light Between Oceans [Celluloid Hero]
The Light Between Oceans (2016)
It has been a very long time since I've done a straight drama as part of this [CH] series. I normally gravitate to action or sci-fi or horror or comedy, just as a means of escapism. Occasionally, however, a group of actors or a movie's description just pulls me in, and putting Michael Fassbender with Alicia Vikander in an intense plot hooked me.
After serving in World War I, Tom (Fassbender) returns home looking for work. He ends finding a job as the lighthouse keeper on a small island. He looks forward to the isolation as an alternative to the horrors of war, but can't resist falling in love with Isabel (Vikander) during a trip back to the mainland. He struggles with the decision to take her away from her home, but their love keeps them happy, alone together.
One day, the couple spots a rowboat being pushed to shore by the tides. Inside they find a dead man, and a live baby. Tom's sense of duty takes control first, insisting they need to log the occurrence and contact the authorities. Isabel, though, in a fit of hysteria after being unable to birth her own child, wants to keep the baby, and manages to convince Tom. With no one else on the island, and supplies only coming in every few months, it's a passable lie. When they bring the child home to be baptized, Tom puts together clues that point to truth, that the child's biological mother is still alive, living on the mainland. Tom wants to return the child, but Isabel is determined to keep her. The stress weighs on both of them until one can't take it anymore.
I don't think I've ever been disappointed by Michael Fassbender, and I loved Alicia Vikander in "Ex Machina". During the opening credits, the name Rachel Weisz appeared and raised my interest even further. I've described Weisz as "distractingly beautiful" before, and it still applies. Normally I've seen Fassbender in action-based roles (X-Men, 300, Inglourious Basterds) so to see him in something that was straight drama was new, but he fit perfectly. His character has a stoicism, a quiet withdrawal, but slowly opens up with his wife and grows into a loving husband and father. Vikander started demure; the psychological trauma of being unable to conceive is intense, and Vikander plays it without ever getting over-the-top.
On top of great performances, the movie just looked beautiful. The island setting lends itself to sweeping landscapes, great ocean views, and gorgeous sunsets. Even the small town back on the mainland had a quaint charm.
I still don't like pulling out the "now that I'm a father" card, but I feel like being a dad made some moments in this hit harder. The idea of raising a child, then being forced to give them up would drive me mad; on the other side, it would be so devastating to try to bring a young child back into my life knowing that another person raised them, fed them, taught them to walk and talk, and were there for all the milestones of a young life. It's an incredibly difficult scenario, and while you think there is a clear "right" answer, the movie actually gives support for both sides.
[Celluloid Hero] gives "The Light Between Oceans" a 8 out of 10.