The Light Between Oceans

Some of the most popular romantic dramas rely heavily on melodrama.  Nicholas Sparks has made a career out of it.  But in the end, these dramas fail in my eyes because they become so overwrought, it becomes unbelievable and eventually unwatchable.  That said, there’s no arguing how effective it can be.
The Light Between Oceans is light on the melodrama, relying on outstanding performances from its two leads, beautifully poetic cinematography and a realistic approach to love.  However, one can’t help but feel a distance from the characters in the film.  While there is a connection with the characters, the film’s level headed approach never lets you truly love these people.
We follow Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander) as they care for a baby who washes up on the isolated shore of their post World War I Australian lighthouse.  While they secretly raise the baby girl as their own, Tom’s guilt over keeping her haunts him.  This guilt grows as he discovers the baby’s mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) is still looking for her long lost daughter.
Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander are the main reasons to see The Light Between Oceans.  Fassbender brings a nobility and frailty to the soft-spoken Tom.  He wears every emotion on his face to devastating effect.  Vikander does the same, conveying the roller coaster of emotions she goes through perfectly.  At no point does it feel over the top.  The chemistry between Fassbender and Vikander is completely believable.  They are utterly devoted to each other throughout.  Rachel Weisz is also good as the distraught mother Hannah.
The cinematography of the film is expertly handled.  Director/Writer Derek Cianfrance and Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw film the isolated island almost as though it is another character.  Its churning shores, beautiful windblown cliffs, the lighthouse cutting a lonely silhouette over the vast ocean…all are shot in almost loving long takes that run parallel with the main characters’ emotions.  The setting never feels wasted and every shot seems to have some meaning.
When the story seems as though it will fall into melodrama, the film usually veers away from it.  At no point do characters declare their love in rain-soaked monologues.  The score is subtle and never reaches an unneeded crescendo to tell the audience how to feel.  There are no villains in the story, every person is a fallible human.  Every move Tom, Isabel and Hannah make is given good reason.
The Light Between Oceans is simply a film about love, devotion and how time has no affect on either.  Be it the love between a husband and wife, a mother and her child, a sister and brother…devotion never really goes away.  The film builds up the relationship between Tom and Isabel and their utter devotion to each other and it forms the heart of the film.
On the other hand, the film’s level headed approach doesn’t allow us, the audience, to become as devoted to is characters.  There is emotional investment, but there is no devotion.  In a film like this, where everything from the acting to the cinematography to the score is handled so well, it’s strange to walk away feeling unsatisfied.
The Light Between Oceans stays at a steady pace, but never reaches a complete pay off emotionally.  The ending is fine, but emotionally, the film’s approach sabotages its intentions.  It’s a film about devotion that lacks the same.  At times, it feels like I’m watching someone tell me about a great love story rather than experiencing it.
The Light Between Oceans is a film lover’s romantic drama.  It uses many of the film artist’s arsenal such as visual storytelling in place of the typical melodramatic cliches that this genre will often use.  While it should be applauded for doing so, it seems as though the filmmakers forget to add the same emotion that they hold up on a pedestal.
Score: 7 out of 10