It’s surprising how little time I’ve had to watch films for enjoyment since beginning my degree in Film Studies! Using the first day of ‘reading week’ as the perfect excuse to explore my new local cinema for the first time I decided to go and see Derek Cianfrance’s latest romantic drama, The Light Between Oceans. Being a big fan of Cianfrance’s previous work, I was well aware that my choice of film would lead to me starting the week in a rather depressing manner; I was not wrong.
The Light Between Oceans follows the journey of soldier turned lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his romance with local girl Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). Following the failure of Vikander’s character to successfully deliver a baby, the couple decide to adopt a baby they rescue from an astray rowing boat; however, their new life turns somewhat complicated as they begin to make contact with ‘their’ child’s real family…
The film presents us with a number of wonderful acting performances; most notable (not surprisingly) are the performances of Fassbender and Vikander, their real-life chemistry translating beautifully on screen. Both manage to portray characters we feel we should dislike somewhat, yet the prominence of both their innocence and naivety makes us sympathise greatly with their situation despite their mishandling of it. Fassbender in particular always maintains a mysteriousness about his character – our knowledge of his war days remains very minimal, but his performance ensures that his past is always in the back of our minds. Whether or not these two names will even be mentioned during awards season is a question for a later date, although The Light Between Oceans allows them both to be worthy contenders.
Cianfrance’s use of cinematography combined with a stunning soundtrack creates what can only be described as a sensory experience. The gorgeous visuals create a real sense of this gorgeous setting – we are always aware of how distant the lighthouse is from the rest of the community, isolating Tom and Isabel and thus intensifying their relationship. The dramatic score complements the cinematography, always heightening the feeling in the film’s most emotional moments.
However, The Light Between the Oceans is not without its flaws; Cianfrance’s unrelenting desire to force tears out of the eyes of his viewers make the film a somewhat tiresome watch. At times, the plot feels contrived, driven purely by the desire to be as dramatic as possible, rather than to tell what is mostly a very emotional story. The extensive use of voiceover as the pair of lovers communicate by the means of letters is initially heartwarming, but as letter after letter is read out to us, it becomes rather cliched.
Derek Cianfrance certainly lives up to his reputation as a director that can pull on our heartstrings with his newest film. Although at times the desperation to force emotion hinders the film, its visual prowess and fantastic lead performances make this one of the most enjoyable and heart-wrenching (yes, the film somehow manages to do both of these things at the same time) watches of the past year or so.
The Light Between Oceans is out now.