ReelBob: ‘The Light Between Oceans’

By Bob Bloom

At times, good people do the wrong thing for what they perceive as the right reason.

Such is the situation in “The Light Between Oceans,” a thoughtful romantic drama with an air of melancholy that breaks your heart.

“The Light Between Oceans” is a story of love, loss and guilt, set against a backdrop of a post-World War I environment still mourning the loss of thousands of young men in the trenches of Europe.

One of the young men who survived is Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus Rock off the Western Australian coast.

Tom looks forward to the solitude the island affords.

Later, smitten by Isabel Graysmark (Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander) whose father hired him, Tom and she marry.

They return to the island where they enjoy an idyllic existence. Tragedy strikes when Tom and Isabel attempt to start a family, casting a pale over their lives and driving Isabel into moods of depression.

Fate intervenes as a dinghy washes onto the island. It contains a dead young man and an infant girl.

Tom, as his duty prescribes, wants to immediately report the incident to the authorities on the mainland, but the mournful Isabel convinces him to remain silent so they can keep the baby, whom they name Lucy, and raise her as their own.

Tom reluctantly agrees, wanting more than anything to please Isabel and make her happy.

Tom and Isabel explain to family and friends on the mainland that Isabel, who had been pregnant, gave birth prematurely.

At Lucy’s christening, Tom notices a woman mourning at a grave site in the cemetery adjoining the church.

From talking to friends, he comes to realize that the woman, Hannah Roennfeldt (Academy Award-winner Rachel Weisz), is Lucy’s actual mother.

He remains silent, but guilt begins growing and eating away at his soul.

Tom sends an unsigned note to Hannah, assuring her that her baby is safe, being cared for and loved.

After that, he says nothing until he sees Hannah again. He then sends her Lucy’s baby rattle, which, outwardly, can be construed as cruel torture, but in Tom’s eyes, it is his way of signaling Hannah about Lucy’s well-being.

Over the next few years, Tom’s remorse and shame become so unbearable that it changes the course of his and Isabel’s lives.

Writer-director Derek Cianfrance, adapting M.L. Stedman’s highly praised novel, has created a beautiful-looking movie, showcasing a turbulent environment that is a metaphor for the human interactions on the island and mainland.

“The Light Between Oceans,” though, seems to lumber along. At a little more than two hours, the movie feels padded.

It could have been quickened a bit if Cianfrance had judiciously edited some of the earlier sequences prior to Tom and Isabel’s marriage.

But this story is more about character than plot. Cianfrance wants us to get inside Tom and Isabel, so we can truly understand their motivations and actions.

The film features tightly woven performances from its three main protagonists. Fassbender, especially, offers a portrait of a man whose strength — the abiding love for his wife — also is his weakness, as it blinds him to his responsibility in order to indulge Isabel in her selfish decision to attain happiness, even if it causes anguish for another.

“The Light Between Oceans” is an emotionally charged feature whose impact is blunted by its methodical and deliberate pacing.

As you watch, you probably will disapprove of the couple’s actions, especially Tom’s for keeping silent. And while you cannot condone Tom’s attempts at assuaging Hannah, neither can you fully condemn him.

This movie will tug at your heart, with a satisfying finale that offers redemption and forgiveness.

Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.


3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), mature themes, sexual content