"The Light Between Oceans" Movie Review

Updated on June 6, 2019
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Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans | Source

I’ve often wondered why people subject themselves to the gotcha moments that pepper horror movies. Why would you want to sit in a dark theater and have the bejeezus scared out of you early and often?

But then I go and willingly sit through things like Me Before You and The Light Between Oceans—two movies this year whose sole purpose is to make you cry like a little baby. I can’t explain it, so I guess I’ll just chalk it up to the ol’ “different strokes for different folks” adage. Either way, yes—The Light Between Oceans will make you weep. But it’s not just a tearjerker, it’s also a soaring and beautiful movie, rich with heartfelt performances.

Based on the bestselling debut novel by M.L. Stedman, the period piece stars Michael Fassbender as Tom Sherbourne, a World War I vet who is looking for a little peace and quiet in 1918 Australia. He takes a job as a lonely lighthouse keeper 100 miles off the western coast, but before he leaves, he meets local lass Isabel (Alicia Vikander). They keep up correspondence, and on one of Tom’s shore leaves, the pair get married. Their formative years are not kind--marked by two miscarriages, but one day a dinghy washes ashore with a newborn baby inside. Isabel takes it as a sign, and she talks Tom into letting them keep the child.

A return trip to shore years later, though, makes them aware of the fact that the baby’s mom (Rachel Weisz) is still alive, and Tom wrestles with what he feels is his obligation to tell the truth. Isabel, meanwhile, is convinced the young Lucy belongs with her, the only mom the child has ever known.

The Light Between Oceans is at once a morality play, a love story, and a heart-ripper. It gets a little heavy on the melodrama, sure, particularly in the third act, but blame that on the source material; it’s not the fault of writer-director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), who, with the help of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (HBO’s True Detective), has created a superb film. There are times when it actually feels like a work of art—that is, when it’s not making you grab the Kleenex. And it's buoyed throughout by Alexandre Desplat's soaring soundtrack.

Vikander and Fassbender (along with Weisz) team up to offer some of the better on-screen performances this year; their chemistry is unmistakable (they became a real-life couple during the filming of the movie), and each left nothing on the table.


There’s no doubting the movie is not for the faint of heart (and I suppose Don’t Breathe and Morgan aren’t either—though for very different reasons), but if sometimes you like a nice cathartic cry, The Light Between Oceans is a good way to get one.


4.5/5 stars

'The Light Between Oceans' trailer


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