Review: "The Light Between Oceans" has great actors doing dumb things

The Light Between Oceans is a tearjerker, but it didn't jerk any from me.



To any loving, childless couples reading this, a bit of advice: Should you ever come across an abandoned baby, contact the proper authorities immediately and turn it in. Do not snatch it and raise it as your own. Yes, I know it's tempting, but don't. Don't. As someone who has seen a lot of movies, I can assure you that the only couple this has ever worked out for is Jonathan and Martha Kent.

The Light Between Oceans is a tearjerker that plays like an extra long Lifetime TV movie with a Grade A cast. Based on the novel by M.L. Stedman, the film is written and directed by Derek Cianfrance. You may remember his powerful domestic drama, Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Or maybe not. Maybe you repressed your memories of it because it was so overwhelmingly depressing.

Moving on to The Light, Michael Fassbender, respected for his appearances as Magneto in numerous X-Men movies and viewed with awe by those who saw him pacing around his apartment in Shame, stars as Tom Sherbourne, back home in Australia after WWI and suffering survivor's guilt over the loss of so many of his fellow soldiers on the battlefields of France.

Tom gets a job as a lighthouse keeper and prepares for a life of seclusion, but wait … Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), daughter of the man who hired Tom, expresses a desire to see his lighthouse (not a euphemism). When Tom explains that only the wife of the lightkeeper is allowed to see the lighthouse, Isabel proposes to him.

Huh. Guess it might have been a euphemism after all.

Tom and Isabel get hitched and begin their life of solitude together. Tragedy strikes when Isabel gets pregnant, then miscarries. After a second miscarriage she falls into a deep funk, but wait … Tom just spotted a dingy with an adorable baby and a dead guy in it. Shame about the latter, but the former perks Isabel right up.

She looks deep into her husband's eyes and says, “Can we keep it?” “You'll have to feed it and clean up after it,” he says. Actually, he doesn't say that. I was being cute. Sorry. Tom wisely objects to her proposal that they conceal the fact that she had a second miscarriage and raise the child as theirs, but Isabel keeps asking until Tom finally gives in. The cross on the grave of the second miscarried child is destroyed. Tom buries the dead guy in an unmarked grave.

What a wonderful idea! Clearly this will lead Tom, Isabel and their lovely stolen daughter Lucy to a life of happiness, but wait … when they're in town for the kid's christening, Tom spots a woman grieving in the graveyard. Turns out she is Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), whose husband and baby Grace were lost at sea.

Tom's face remains impassive, but you just know that inside he is thinking, “D'oh!”

We've reached the point in this essay where I normally would talk about Alexandre Desplat's strong score, or director Cianfrance's listen-to-a-bit-of-the-next-scene-while-still-watching-this-one scene transitions, but I've decided to address something else, which requires me to use all-caps to say


Tom and Isabel get busted for pretending Hannah's child is theirs, and the reason they get busted is because of secret messages sent by Tom. (NOTE: Hoo boy, that was quite a spoiler, wasn't it? When I say SPOILER ALERT I'm not kidding around.)

I elected to reveal this plot point because I was so astounded by its cruelty and baffled by its illogic. Think about it. Tom is so riddled by guilt after seeing the real mother that he sends a handwritten note telling her that the girl is alive. Then he waits (get ready for this) three stinking years (years!!) to drop another clue. I realise that Post-Tramatic-Stress-Disorder is awful, but even with a twisted mindset, how does this guy justify shattering his wife's fragile mental construct – in slow motion! – while basically torturing the real mother for the same obscene length of time? END SPOILER ALERT.

The Light Between Oceans is a tearjerker, but it didn't jerk any from me. I was too annoyed watching very good actors doing very stupid things. I liked the atmosphere of this movie, but not nearly enough to forgive the creepy nonsense passing for drama within it.

Opens Friday at Studio Movie Grill – College Park


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