Thu, 07 Dec 2023

The Light Between Oceans

Director: Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance (based on the novel by M.L. Stedman)
Stars: Michael Fassbender (Tom Sherbourne), Alicia Vikander (Isabel Graysmark), Rachel Weisz (Hannah Roennfeldt), Florence Clery (Lucy-Grace), Jack Thompson (Ralph Addicott), Thomas Unger (Bluey Smart), Jane Menelaus (Violet Graysmark), Garry McDonald (Bill Graysmark), Anthony Hayes (Sergeant Vernon Knuckey), Benedict Hardie (Constable Harry Garstone), Emily Barclay (Gwen Potts),

Bryan Brown (Septimus Potts), Stephen Ure (Neville Whittnish), Peter McCauley (Sergeant Spragg)

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2016
Country: U.K. / New Zealand / U.S.
The Light Between Oceans Blu-ray

The Light Between Oceans

Based on M.L. Stedman's debut novel, Derek Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans is an effectively calculated tearjerker-a beautifully mounted historical drama set in the years just after World War I that is predicated on the terrible dance between happiness and heartbreak. Specifically, the story hinges on how one couple's happiness requires another's sorrow, a divide that is reversed in the film's second half, leaving us with the agonizing question of whether there can be any kind of resolution that does not leave at least one party devastated. To the film's credit, it manages to wind its way to an ending that is both honest and emotionally fulfilling; that is, it doesn't end cynically or in trendy downer fashion, but rather finds a balance between happiness and heartbreak, suggesting that the pains of life, even the worst ones, can be eventually transcended through forgiveness even if they are never fully forgotten.

Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs) stars as Tom Sherbourne, who at the beginning of the film has just returned from four years in the trenches. He is a damaged man, one who is looking to escape from humanity, which is why he seeks out and accepts the isolating job of lighthouse keeper on a remote island, where he will be the only soul around for months at a time. However, his protective wall of isolation is eventually broken down by his budding relationship with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina), the daughter of a prominent man on the mainland whom he eventually marries and who goes to live with him on the island. Their life there is idyllic in many ways, untrammeled by the burdens imposed by others, leaving Tom and Isabel free to pursue nothing but each other.

After a while they want to start a family, but two pregnancies end in miscarriages, the first of which happens during a terrible storm while Tom is in the lighthouse and Isabel is alone in the cabin below. The two tiny crosses marking the babies' graves at the top of the island's tallest hill are testament to their sorrow, which is why the unexpected arrival of a wooden dingy one day bearing the body of a recently deceased man and a crying infant feels both surreal and like an answered prayer. Tom, ever dutiful, insists that they report the incident and take the infant back to the mainland, but Isabel, desperate for a child and still in grief over her most recent miscarriage, convinces him to bury the man's body and pretend that the child is theirs. Tom reluctantly agrees, and their lives enter a new stage of bliss, as the baby, whom they name Lucy, grows into a happy, gregarious four-year-old (Florence Clery).

However, their idyll is once against broken when Tom catches a glimpse of a woman (Rachel Weisz) mourning at a cemetery next to the church where Lucy is to be baptized. When he wanders down to the grave marker, he is horrified to see that it is for a man and a child lost at sea around the same time he and Isabel found Lucy. He inquires about the woman and learns that her name is Hannah Roennfeldt and she had married a German man against the wishes of her wealthy and powerful father (Bryan Brown). Tom, his conscience wracked with guilt at having stolen Hannah's child and compounded her grief, feels compelled to come clean about his and Isabel's crime, but she resists. The conflict between his desire to return Lucy to her actual mother and Isabel's desire to continue being Lucy's mother drives a decisive wedge between them, one that may destroy them entirely.

Throughout the film, Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), who both adapted the novel and directed, balances an ethereal sense of bliss with the hard decisions that define lives; working with cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Macbeth), he ensures that the film is frequently beautiful, almost to the point of distraction, but always brings it back down to earth via the raw, pained performances by Fassbender, Vikander, and Weisz and a relentless focus on the seeming impossibility of resolution. The ethical consequences of Tom and Isabel's decision, which they convince themselves is the right thing ("We're not doing anything wrong," she declares), are enormous; they make the mistake of assuming there is no one out there who could be affected by what they have done. Hannah is the victim through and through, and her desire to get her child back is completely understandable, even as it threatens to destroy not only Isabel's sense of self, but her relationship with Tom. Fassbender has a particularly tricky role because Tom is frequently a stoic presence-at the beginning of the film when he is purposefully withdrawing from humanity and later when he makes a claim that isn't true in order to protect Isabel at all costs-and Fassbender plays it beautifully, suggesting the turmoil beneath his character's stony face. Vikander and Weisz both play various shades of sadness and distress, but in intriguingly different ways that set them apart and illustrate the divide between their characters.

At its best, The Light Between Oceans confronts us with our inescapable interconnection-about how our choices always affect other people, no matter how isolated we feel we are-and the ultimate healing power of forgiveness. Tom and Isabel make a choice that turns out to be the height of cruelty, even though they are not cruel people, and the latter half of the film deals with the increasingly tense stakes of Tom's decision to try to rectify that cruelty. Bad things happen to good people and good people do bad things, a truism that Cianfrance's film dramatizes with particularly acute urgency and beauty.

The Light Between Oceans Blu-ray
Aspect Ratio2.40:1

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish

  • Audio commentary by director Derek Cianfrance and professor/filmmaker Phil Solomon
  • "Bringing The Light to Life" featurette
  • "Lighthouse Keeper" featurette

  • DistributorDreamWorks Pictures
    Release DateJanuary 23, 2017

    The Light Between Oceans was one of the most visually beautiful films I saw in theaters last year, and I am happy to report that its beauty is very well preserved on this 1080p/AVC-encoded Blu-ray. The film was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa XT, so the presentation here is a direct digital port. The image is extremely well rendered, with rich colors, fine detail, and strong contrast throughout. The overall palette of the film is fairly muted, with a great deal of soft earth tones and various shades of blue, although there are some striking deployments of primary colors, particularly verdant greens. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel soundtrack is also first-rate. Given that it is a romantic drama, one would think that surround sound would not be a primary element, but the intensity of the environment on the secluded island is a crucial part of the film's texture. The howling wind is a constant, and the surround channels deploy it in an effectively enveloping manner. There is also a major storm sequence that is plenty thunderous, and Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat's orchestral score sound deep and lush.
    The audio commentary by writer/director Derek Cianfrance is fairly unique in that he is joined by Phil Solomon, the avant-garde filmmaker under whom he studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder (we also learn that Solomon was to have produced an experimental opening credits sequence, but it was dropped). They have a fascinating rapport, and it is particularly interesting listening to a mentor and his very successful former student discuss the film, its influences, and how it was made-definitely one of the more intriguing audio commentaries I have heard in some time. The other supplements are a pair of fairly routine featurettes: "Bringing the Light to Life" focuses on the location work on Cape Campbell, an isolated region of New Zealand, where cast and crew lived together while filming (interviews include Cianfrance, actors Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz, and several producers), while "Lighthouse Keeper" is a short piece about the actual lighthouse on Cape Campbell, the history of which is related by inspector/maintainer Rob Sword.

    Copyright © 2017 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © DreamWorks Pictures

    Overall Rating: (3.5)


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