DreamWorks Pictures’ “The Light Between Oceans” is a heart-breaking drama about fate, love, moral dilemmas and the lengths to which one couple will go to see their dreams realized. Starring Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, Oscar and Golden Globe winner Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson, the film is written for the screen and directed by Derek Cianfrance based on the acclaimed novel by M.L. Stedman. The producers are Academy Award nominee David Heyman, p.g.a., and Jeffrey Clifford, p.g.a., with Tom Karnowski, Rosie Alison, Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King serving as executive producers. In the years following World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a young veteran still numb from his years in combat, takes a job as lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a remote island off the coast of Western Australia. As the island’s sole inhabitant, he finds comfort in the monotony of the chores and the solitude of his surroundings. When he meets the daughter of the school’s headmaster, Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), in the local town of Partageuse on the mainland, Tom is immediately captivated by her beauty, wit and passion, and they are soon married and living on the island. As their love flourishes, he begins to feel again, their happiness marred only by their inability to start a family, so when a rowboat with a dead man and infant girl mysteriously washes ashore, Isabel believes their prayers may have finally been answered. As a man of principle, Tom is torn between reporting the lost child and pleasing the woman he loves, and against his better judgment he agrees to let Isabel raise the child as their own, making a choice with devastating consequences.
Director Derek Cianfrance excels at capturing tactile grief. His previous movies, ‘Blue Valentine,’ and ‘The Place Beyond the Pines,’ were each studies in different kinds of grief; the former about dealing with lost love, the latter about losing a loved one. His stories aren’t new, but they sure seem to get to the heart of the drama without coming across as silly or falsely sentimental.
‘The Light Between Oceans’ is an adaption of M.L. Stedman’s novel of the same name. It’s just after World War I and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has returned home. He spent the war fighting in the trenches, and his personality reflects that. He’s a stoic figure. He doesn’t talk much. He seems to be fighting another war inside himself.
Tom is now a lighthouse keeper living off the coast of Australia when he falls madly in love with Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander). They get married and move to the island where Tom mans the lighthouse. It’s a lonely existence, which is made unbearable after Isabel’s two miscarriages.
She’s distraught, falling into madness. She doesn’t understand why the babies keep coming early. There’s nothing they can do about it way out there on their island, alone. Then one day a boat washes up on shore. Inside: a dead man, and a crying healthy baby. Isabel takes it as a sign from God, Tom is much more worried about the impact on their family if they decide to pretend like the baby is theirs.
Cianfrance does what he does best, even though 'The Light Between Oceans' feels more like mainstream drama than his other films. He works well in those moments where observing grief becomes almost uncomfortable for the audience. It needs to be uncomfortable. The characters in this movie are faced with impossible decisions, and their anguish is paramount to the story.
As a parent, and a child of adoption, 'The Light Between Oceans' was especially hard to watch. On one hand I understand the yearning to be a parent, to care for a child, and to watch them grow up. On the other hand, I appreciate – all too well – the loss an adopted child feels, once their grown, knowing that somewhere out there are the birth parents, but there’s no easy way of finding them.
I felt strongly for Isabel’s desire to become a mother at all costs. I felt equally as heartbroken for the young child, who grows up on the island, not knowing the truth about her origins. Finally, I felt the despair the child’s birth mother (Rachel Weisz) felt, wondering what happened to her child.
This is a complicated drama. What Cianfrance does with this adaption is he allows the main characters room to develop. Each of their motives are different and it’s important we understand them. Even within the allotted feature-length film runtime, he makes the film feel like a novel. We grow to know these characters as intimately as we would if we followed them through 300 pages.
Perhaps the crowning achievement of Cianfrance’s adaption is that it so easily could venture into sappy territory, but it never does. He highlights the pain of these characters without diminishing it with any phony sentimentality. Yes, the tears you may end up shedding during “The Light Between Oceans” will be well-earned ones.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc 50GB Blu-ray with a code for the Digital Copy. The disc is contained in a standard keepcase and has a slipcover provided.
Disney’s 1080p adaption for ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is quite something to marvel at. We shouldn’t really expect anything less from a recently filmed big studio picture. They certainly deliver as anticipated here.
Cianfrance’s visuals are stunning. The best imagery on this presentation are the vast landscapes the camera takes in. The rolling hills of the island, the cliffs and beaches of its shores, and even the rolling blue ocean with cresting foamy waves. It all looks so lifelike, so real, so vivid. It looked every bit as beautiful as it did when I saw it in the theater last year.
Up close the detail is just as impressive. Skin textures are authentic. Clothing, fabric, woodwork, dirt, sand, all of it reflects a tactile presence. Contrast is spot-on. There isn’t any hint of banding, aliasing, or any other hiccups that would otherwise detract from the viewing experience. It’s as demo-worthy as any weepy drama.
Sporting a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track ‘The Light Between the Oceans’ offers up a surprisingly engulfing audio mix. Usually dramas are dialogue heavy and don’t really make use of the surround channels very often. Here, the story and its settings encourage it to.
The island is a haven for surround sound. Waves crash all around, in every channel. The wind is constantly blowing through the soundscape with seamless ease. The night of the storm offers up some thundering bass and almost painful whistling wind gusts. This mix does exactly what it’s supposed to, make you feel like you’re right the experiencing everything the characters are experiencing.
Dialogue is clear and always able to be heard. I was impressed by the way the whispers and sobs are all intelligible. There’s a lot of cry and sobbing in this movie and it’d be easy for words to get lost in the fray, but they don’t. As far as drama goes this is one of the more demo-worthy tracks out there.
Audio Commentary – This is a surprising commentary because Cianfrance is joined by his film professor Phil Solomon, Professor of Film Studies at University of Colorado Boulder. The relationship between them provides a great platform for them to sit and discuss the movie and its technical details. This is much more compelling than the standard lone director commentary.
Bringing ‘The Light’ to Life (HD, 17 min.) – A catch-all featurette that covers everything from the story, its origins, to filming and the locations where they filmed.
Lighthouse Keeper (HD, 6 min.) – A look at what it took to find the perfect place to shoot the film.
For what it is, a sentimental weepy drama about loss and death, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ manages to steer itself away from some of the more detrimental tropes of the genre – a minor miracle indeed. And with some enthralling audio and splendid visuals, this disc is recommended.