Imagine an earnest Raising Arizona imbued with Christian themes and you may get an idea of what The Light Between Oceans is like. It’s a melodrama about a childless couple (Michael Fassbender & Alicia Vikander), tending a lighthouse on an island in Australia, that claims—as its own—a baby that floats to shore in a dinghy, a dinghy that’s also carrying the baby’s dead father. Derek Cianfrance directed this movie and not unlike his previous & better effort, The Place Beyond the Pines, this movie explores the theme of parenthood. But unlike that movie, as well as Cianfrance’s heralded Blue Valentine, it’s not an original story; here, Cianfrance is adapting a Romanticist novel, from 2013, by M.L. Stedman. According to a reader/reviewer, Cianfrance fails “to sweep the characters up in a web of destiny.” Which is true: the movie is not long enough for that. According to the same reader/reviewer, “there’s far more character as well as poetry” in Stedman’s description of the protagonist lighting a fire than “in all of Cianfrance’s overwrought inventions.” That we’re not sure about. At the risk of sounding tautological we must say that literature is literature and movies are movies—they are different art forms—and the former, especially Romanticist novels, generally do not translate well onto the screen. Nevertheless, Cianfrance tries. As a melodrama The Light Between Oceans is moving & grand, with stunning panoramas & intense close-ups of its beautiful actors, although Fassbender’s tendency to play it close to the vest keeps us at a distance. Meanwhile, Vikander radiates while Rachel Weisz excels in a supporting role that requires her to find grace.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White