Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Screenplay: Derek Cianfrance
Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: September 2, 2016
Scott, it looks like we’re going to trip the light fantastic.
No doubt the trip will lead to an ocean of motion. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to Tom Sherbourne who is back from WWI and ready to have some alone time working as the lighthouse keeper for the sleepy town in Australia. After three months, Tom is offered the job full-time and he marries young Isabel. It isn’t long before the two are expecting a wee bairn. Sadly, Isabel miscarries and they bury their child. The two try again but with the same results.
One day Tom spots a small boat adrift in the ocean. On board is a live baby girl and her dead father. Tom is duty-bound to report the discovery but Isabel, desperate for a baby, wants to keep the incident a secret and raise the infant as their own. Tom grudgingly agrees. They name the girl Lucy and all appears well until a few years later when Tom encounters Lucy’s actual mother (Rachel Weisz) who believes her daughter to be dead. This sets in motion an ocean of trouble for Tom and Isabel.
Scott, this is a refreshing change from the classic hero’s journey. Here we see a couple who have selected a path that requires them to lie about their lives and the life of their child. Tom cannot stand to keep the lie and delivers a letter to the original mother letting her know that her husband is dead and her daughter is being cared for. This is only a temporary fix for Tom’s conscience. He must now live a new lie: the lie of omission to his wife as he keeps the secret of their changeling daughter.
One thing is for certain about The Light Between Oceans: it is expertly designed to take us on an emotional roller coaster. We’re thrilled when two young lovers get together, then we’re crushed when their babies die. Then we’re happy when they (conveniently) find a lost baby, but then we’re crushed when we discover this new baby has a mother who thinks it’s dead. The ups and downs go on and on — but in a good way from an entertainment perspective.
The movie actually tells a good heroic tale. Greg, you call it a “refreshing change” from the usual hero journey but it seems pretty standard to me. At the tearful request of Isabel, our hero Tom is thrust into the dangerous world of committing a crime he normally would never commit. But his love for her trumps his ethics, sending him down a dark path that he eventually couldn’t live with. Coming clean is his only path to redemption, and his honesty saves him, his marriage, and the true mother of the child. Tom and Isabel certainly grow from the ordeal, and their growth is absolutely necessary for their personal and marital salvation.
I felt Light didn’t follow the typical path of giving the hero a goal or quest. The focus is on the crushing burden of an honest man maintaining a lie. It’s more of a character study than a journey. This movie asks a question: What if an honest man has to choose between honesty and true love. Tom loves his wife so much that he would give up his most closely held belief in doing what is right. And in the end, he lays the groundwork for the discovery of his lie. He can’t do what is wrong, even for the love of his life. In the end, he is willing to give up his life in exchange for the truth to be told, and to protect his wife. It’s a story deep in character, less so in plot.
Interesting way to look at it, Greg. In terms of mentorship, I’m really struck by the transformative effect that women can have on men in the movies. The Light Between Oceans is no exception. Curiously, Isabel has both a positive and a negative mentoring effect on Tom. At first, she is good for him. She transforms him from a numb, shell-shocked man who is running away from himself and his past, into a man who is capable of opening his heart and having an intimate relationship.
But later she turns into a dark mentor, convincing Tom to betray his ethics. We’ve seen several movies that are primarily about a hero who must overcome a dark mentor, movies such as War Dogs and Whiplash. Usually the dark mentor wields a great deal of power over the hero, making it difficult for the hero to extricate himself from the mentor’s influence. In Light Between Oceans, Isabel doesn’t have power per se over our hero Tom, but Tom’s love and loyalty toward her and their child makes it extremely challenging for him to defy her influence. Yet he must do so for his heroism to unfold.
You pretty much nailed it, Scott. There’s also Tom’s inner mentor of the “rules of being an honest man.” In the westerns it might be called “The Law of the West.” We’ve seen this in other movies where past mentors instilled rules and lessons in the young hero. These guiding principles are what create the drama in this movie.
The Light Between Oceans is the story of one man’s conflict between his morals and the love of his life. There are a lot of ways this story could have gone. It is Tom’s conflict between doing the right thing and giving his wife what she desperately needs that makes this movie so interesting. I was glad to have a film that wasn’t about a man’s missing inner quality and a tangible quest. Instead we get a deep character study. I give Light 4 out of 5 Reels.
Tom Sherbourne is an exceptionally good man. He’s honest, trustworthy, and a committed husband. He is put in the position of violating one or both of his strongly held beliefs. On the one hand he must be truthful. When he discovers the boat with the dead German and baby, he knows he must record it in his log and report it to the authorities. But when his wife demands he let her keep the baby, the rule of love creates a conflict with his morals. I give Tom 4 out of 5 Heroes.
Isabel plays the role of the dark mentor, leading Tom down the path of disobeying his inner rules. These inner rules are Tom’s mentor, guiding him to do the right thing. These are important mentors for this story, but are not as strong as many we’ve seen this year. I give Isabel and Tom’s inner mentor just 3 out of 5 Mentor points.
The Light Between Oceans is a soap opery tale about Australian love, tragedy, and redemption. The movie works because the story effectively pulls us into the drama and makes us care about these characters. We care about Tom and root for him to heal his war-time injuries. We root for young love to blossom. We’re heartbroken about the lost babies and not only understand Isabel’s desire to keep the baby who washes up ashore but also understand why Tom would compromise his principles to please her. It’s all rather maudlin and overly dramatic, yet it all works on every level of filmmaking. I also award this film 4 Reels out of 5.
Our hero Tom is a classic hero in many senses of the word. He is a hero of the Great War, he is a hero of love, he is a hero of honesty, he is a hero of loyalty, and he is a hero of redemption. We don’t see much greater heroism than this in the movies. His journey is extraordinarily painful yet effective in transforming him and in bringing out his best qualities. I also award Tom 4 Heroes out of 5.
The mentorship role that Isabel plays is a fascinating one that we rarely see in storytelling. It is highly unusual for the same character to play both a positive and a negative mentoring role, yet Isabel assumes this bipolar role in her influence on Tom. Good call, Greg, on noting Tom’s inner moral compass as another type of mentor operating on him. It all adds up to a rather interesting movie for mentoring, necessitating a Mentor rating of 4 out of 5.