The Light Between Oceans ***

Great cast and beautiful locales highlight this stirring drama.

Is it worth $10? Yes

What would you do?

You’re happily married newlyweds living in isolation on an island. You desperately want to start a family, but repeated miscarriages make that impossible. One day a boat with a dead man and a living baby washes ashore on your island, which is 100 miles from the nearest land. Do you keep the baby as your own, or alert the authorities and almost certainly lose the child?

Such is the dilemma faced by Tom (Michael Fassbender) and Isabel (Alicia Vikander) in “The Light Between Oceans,” a grand epic with a real conversation starter at its core. How it plays out is logical and heartbreaking, and it also feels truthful given the time (1920s) and place (Australia) in which the story is set.

Fassbender and Vikander (who won an Oscar for “The Danish Girl”) are strong leads, in particular because their characters go through such a substantial transition. They meet, exchange love letters while Tom is working alone at a lighthouse, fall in love and marry, but it’s not until after they’re married that they live together and really start to get to know one another. He’s a war veteran suffering from PTSD who’s numb to the world, and she’s a sweet girl living in a town in which there are literally no other men her age (at least that we see). It’s a cliché to write and say it, but beautiful when it really is true: They’re good for one another.

The idealism Tom and Isabel begin with is nicely balanced with the reality and heartache that follows; we like and feel for them, even if we don’t necessarily agree with their decision when the baby’s real mother (a strong Rachel Weisz) enters the picture. Tom’s morality and honor, combined with Isabel’s pure maternal heart, make them a couple you’ll root for in spite of their actions.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by M.L. Stedman, and director Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”) is determined to keep the scale of the story. While it’s admirable to feature many of the book’s best moments, the inclusion of a plethora of locals and plot points bloats the running time to 132 minutes, and it feels long. It’s not unendurable, but when you have as many slow sequences as this film does it’s frustrating.

Movies that make you think and inspire conversation are sadly more rare than commonplace in theaters these days, which is why “The Light Between Oceans” is noteworthy. It presents legitimate quandaries to which there’s not necessarily a right answer, and in doing it so poses questions many of us would have great difficulty answering ourselves. This is also a movie that has raw emotion, and as such is a touching experience that fans of large-scale dramas will not want to miss.

Did you know?
Fassbender and Vikander are a couple in real life; they met when production began on this film in September 2014. 

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