Ocean lights

2017.54: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

The Light Between Oceans is a very beautiful-looking movie, and stars beautiful actors (Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz) and it’s all very… lovely. There’s a sense of it being very idealised rather than ‘real’, a sort-of hyper-reality, not a sense that this was the past, but rather what it should have been. Well, movies have been doing that for years. It just seems odd to be doing that now, in 2017. Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a World War One veteran returning to Australia seeking solitude and quiet to recover from the chaos of the trenches. He finds a perfect job minding a lighthouse on a remote piece of rock off the mainland,  named Janus, but eventually decides he needs companionship. Through letters he courts Isabel (Vikander) and eventually they marry and she moves with him to Janus. They try to start a family, but suffer setbacks, until one day a small boat washes ashore with a dead man and a crying baby onboard. The baby seems to be a fortuitous gift and under pressure from Isabel, Tom agrees to keep the baby and the couple pretend it is their own. This story succeeds to fool family and freinds back on the mainland, until Tom realises who the baby’s real mother is and is overwhelmed by guilt in the face of that mother’s suffering.

There is nothing really wrong about this movie. As I have noted, it looks gorgeous with golden-hour sunsets and dawns and big skies and the cast are of course beautiful and rather perfect… the problem is that with all that perfection onscreen, all those great vistas and sunsets and those beautiful faces, when the story just strays too far over into melodrama it all seems a little too much. What saved the film for me was an absolutely wonderful, lyrical and heartfelt score by Alexandre Desplat, which just lifts the film to some other level and transcends the films tendency to slip into those heart-tugging dramatics. It’s like some other character in the film, one of those old-fashioned, strong scores that doesn’t follow the current fashion of being ambient at all, rather it’s up-front and all the better for it. Shades of James Horner and John Barry, too (it’s that good).

So while I may seem a bit dismissive of the film as a whole, I did really enjoy it, and the cast are fine. It just feels very much like a Sunday-afternoon drama, and there is of course no harm in that if you’ve a Sunday-afternoon free and you want something to pass the time. In light of the calibre of the cast though you could be forgiven to expect something rather more, and when the film ends you might be feeling a little underwhelmed. But there is that music. It’s something special indeed, and by the time the film finally ended I was looking up its score album with considerable aniticipation, and not many films do that these days.


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