In “The Light Between Oceans,” director Derek Cianfrance has made a film that is both epic and intimate, a love story intertwined with tragedy. Stars Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender manage to deftly inhabit the characters and keep it from tipping into melodrama.
It’s 1918 Australia, and Tom (Fassbender) a war veteran, is seeking some solitude to process his experience. He takes a post as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, and en route to his new home, he catches the eye of a local woman, Isabel (Vikander). After a picnic and some letter-writing, the two are married and start a life for two isolated on Janus.
Isabel takes to the stormy island, with their just-the-two-of-us rural lifestyle. But the isolation, as well as a few setbacks in starting their family, lead her into a deep depression.
Then a moral conundrum arises, where “saving a life” means something different from “doing the right thing.” Tom is forced to make that distinction when the couple rescue a baby girl from a stranded dinghy. Doing the right thing would mean calling the authorities. Saving a life means allowing his wife to keep the baby as her own. It’s an untenable situation in their tight-knit village.
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“The Light Between Oceans” is compelling, but it has an unemotional reservedness. Perhaps it’s Fassbender’s restrained performance, or the filmmaking, which is as carefully executed as an heirloom piece. It ends up more of a study in moral decision-making than as an emotional catharsis, but it’s a worthy journey nonetheless.
‘The Light Between Oceans’
Rated PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content. 2:12. Fayette Mall, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.