Over the years, romance movies have gradually stopped being my thing. It’s not because I don’t enjoy a good love story; I do. But the “chick flick” genre has all but been evaporated into the comedy genre, which in turn has been evaporated into a constant stream of ugly, absurdist, vulgar, and meaningless films. So when I discovered that there was a period piece coming out with a serious tone AND had Michael Fassbender, I figured I would try to see it before it left the theaters.
One thing that did catch me off guard in this movie was that I thought the pinnacle of the entire story was the romance, so when the budding relationship between Tom (Fassbander) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) climaxes into marriage within the first twenty-five minutes, I was wondering what in the world this movie was going to do for the next hour and a half.
First off, Fassbender and Vikander both are amazing in their roles. Vikander has significantly more chances to shine with a vast array of emotions, but the reason Fassbender isn’t as impressive is because of his character.
Tom is a soldier that is fresh out of World War I; he is so clearly damaged by his experience, and he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper on an island (… between oceans…) where he can isolate himself with his thoughts. Tom is a quiet, stoic figure and discovering more about him requires you to pay attention to his subtle actions.
Isabel, on the other hand, is a girl in a small town that has been emptied of any maritally suitable men (because of the war), and meets Tom as he’s being introduced to the town. Isabel, because of her actions and motivations, is the much more fascinating character. Where Tom tends to be consistent, Isabel is more erratic.
But they’re both good people who communicate enough with each other to not cause unnecessary conflict, so their relationship was obviously not the pinnacle of this story.
The main conflict of the story falls long after the wedding is over. Once this conflict happens, you really start to get to know these characters as well as the themes for the story: handling a guilty conscience, what happens when you begin to live a convenient lie, how choices affect others in ways you cannot even fathom until it is too late.
In short, The Light Between Oceans is far more complex and explores far more emotional stages that I anticipated it would be.
As someone who enjoys depth in story telling, this was something that elated me; discovering the inner depth of who people truly are requires you to experience them when they make decisions in moments of secrecy and/or conflict, and the pinnacle of the story truly differentiates Tom and Isabel.
This certainly is not a feel-good movie; much of what happens in this film is solemn, grim, and depressing. Even in the beginning, when Tom and Isabel or enjoying the love and simplicity of their lives, there is always this quiet sadness that fills the tone.
Another character is later introduced into the story, and that person’s performance and character arc were also fascinating and heartbreaking to watch.
The soundtrack for this movie is fitting for the tone, but it is not at all complex or unique. It never really challenges your perceptions of what is actually going on, and it mainly attempts to emphasize emotional moments (I’m not saying that this is a detractor).
Some of the dialogue, especially during the beginning, was a bit hard to understand. This was mainly due to Fassbender mumbling a bit, but as the movie goes along the dialogue was more comprehendible.
Aside from a few moments where I was wondering where the hell this movie was even going, I can’t say that I was ever bored with the experience, but there were a couple moments where I thought, “If I didn’t have the patience for these kind of movies, I bet I would subjectively complain about how slow it is.” And this movie can be slow at times, but the movie can never be accused of wasting your time, so it’s up to you whether or not the slowness bothers you.
The Light Between Oceans is a fantastically acted period piece that explores the consequences of secrecy and wrongdoing, and how it can test the strength of a completely loving relationship. It also explores the ideas of forgiveness and selflessness. It’s a complex movie that is deeply sad, but somehow also heartwarming. On a side note, it made me realize that maybe my true calling is on an island with my wife tending a lighthouse for a living. It sounds amazing for extreme introverts such as myself.
I came into this film figuring that it would either be boring or okay, and I now sit here writing this review thinking that The Light Between Oceans could very easily make my top 10 of 2016, and I’m giving this movie a 9 out of 10.