By Josiah Wampfler
Blue Valentine. The Place Beyond the Pines. And now The Light Between Oceans. Director Derek Cianfrance has now blown my mind with all of these films and, shockingly, they are his only three feature films of note. From the first frame of Blue Valentine it was apparent that Cianfrace was bound for great things. But with The Light Between Oceans, he makes it abundantly clear that he is a brilliant auteur through and through.
In this twist on an early 20th Century romance, Cianfrance trades in one of my man-crushes (Ryan Gosling) for my other: the endlessly captivating Michael Fassbender. Joining Fassbender is his real-life girlfriend Alicia Vikander and WOW! These two are incredible. Apparently, their real-life relationship blossomed during the making of the film and that is immediately evident on the screen. Fassbender and Vikander make one of the best romantic pairings in years.
Though Vikander is a relative newcomer compared to Fassbender, she is every bit as captivating and convincing. For every brilliantly emotive look Fassbender exhibits, Vikander is there to answer him. Each one feeds off the other’s performance to create the kind of magnetic chemistry that is rarely captured on camera.
The film also features Rachel Weisz, who is every bit as superb as her co-stars, but to even talk about her role is a spoiler in itself unfortunately (If you haven’t read the synopsis/watched the trailer, DON’T). What I will say is that all three of these actors put in phenomenal performances worthy of awards attention, but it is Weisz that surprised me the most. I hadn’t seen her in much before this film and I want to see her in everything now. It is her character that makes The Light Between Oceans so much more than a simple romance and it is her performance that adds heartbreaking complexity to the film, as she pulls at our heartstrings and allegiances throughout.
And holy sunsets! The Light Between Oceans is one of the most magnificently gorgeous films I have ever seen. The scenery, a lone island on which a quaint lighthouse rests amid the treacherous ocean, is the epitome of tranquility. And Cianfrance captures this extraordinarily beautiful place under the light of sunsets and sunrises as often as possible. With his camera he is able to make one place emotionally different in almost every shot, showing how beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Throughout the film we experience beauty in loneliness, love, togetherness, and even tragedy. It is truly a unique visual experience.
The Light Between Oceans is a film first and foremost about love. This is not the simplistic love that is found in most mainstream romances that is all about surface level emotion but a love that explores the deeper complexities of what it takes to make a relationship work. The type of love that Cianfrance shows us involves sacrifice and forgiveness. Life is messy and, like the director’s past work, much of The Light Between Oceans revolves around good people making bad decisions. But we empathize with the characters as they make these decisions, making it all the more heartbreaking. Yet out of the tragedy that is the second half of the film comes a deeper understanding of true love that is willing to sacrifice and willing to forgive. This love is what is able to carry these characters through the tragic events of the film and, in the end, it is this same kind of love in another that ultimately saves them.