Recently released film features romance, suspense, and forgiveness

Based on the book by M.L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans, released on September 2 and directed by Derek Cianfrance, begins with Tom Sherbourne, a WWI veteran and the new lighthouse keeper of Janus Island. Soon after the film’s picturesque opening, he falls in love with his employer’s daughter, Isabel, played by Alicia Vikander. Tom, played by Michael Fassbender, had struggled to understand why he had survived when so many of his fellow soldiers had been killed, but through his work and even more so through his wife, he finds purpose in his life.

The film strays from the stereotypical romantic movie ending of “girl and boy finally end up together despite some obstacle.” More true to real life, there is no dire obstacle to overcome before the couple marries, but the true obstacles—which become life-defining moments—come during their marriage.

Through the film, the audience encounters a refreshing illustration of what love really is for real people. Even the trailer depicts how Tom and Isabel are devastated by their inability to have a child. This first complex hardship is where the film truly begins. The narrative progresses through the actions and decisions they make together and alone. The Light Between Oceans is essentially a film about forgiveness, honesty, human goodness, and the meaning of sacrificial love.

In particular, two elements make this film worth the watch: the characters and the cinematography.

First, even though the story mostly takes place on a small, secluded island, it incorporates a host of complex, intertwined characters on and off Janus. Each character in the film experiences a personal struggle, making it difficult for them to distinguish between what is the “fine” choice and what is the “better” choice. There is no “antagonist,” but every character causes some sort of conflict for the others and for themselves. The film invites the audience to identify with characters’ temperaments, situations, and decisions.

For example, Tom and Isabel experience the joy and first magical months of marriage together, but as time proceeds, they experience the repercussions of a major decision, which is arguably made too hastily. Although their subsequent decisions almost leave them at the brink of complete separation, it is in this absence of “feelings” and “physical attractions” that the two (perhaps one more than the other) come to realize that they must live for, be unconditionally there for, and selflessly love the other.

The film deftly brings each character to life through appropriate depth and development. Even a character that is only known through another character’s memory is given a significant role within the film. Fassbender and Vikander truly drive this film with their moving, and at times astounding, acting. At times, their gazes towards one another seem organic and unaltered by the presence of a camera.

Next, cinematographer Adam Arkpaw artfully creates each scene to match the mood of the character or to capture the beautiful landscapes of Australia and New Zealand. Each scene is composed so that the script’s emotion, the music score, and the visuals complement one another well. The crisp, carefully-crafted images seem almost to enable the frame to be frozen to capture a beautiful still that would stand on its own. The cinematography seamlessly captures the passing and cycle of time, along with the movement of the characters through its symbolic scenery. Arkpaw’s decisions regarding when to use wide angle, landscape, and close-up shots help create an underlying relationship between the sound score and the scenery. At times, it is almost as if the sound score and cinematography are creating their own dialogue while supporting the revealing elements of the characters.

Although The Light Between Oceans has its strengths, it is not without faults. The films runs for about two hours and fifteen minutes, but it could have been completed in a shorter span of time. It has a few too many sentimental moments and unnecessary scenes that excessively pull the audience’s feelings. Also, because the music score and cinematography are so astounding, they at times distract from the overall plot.

Despite the film’s closeness to being an overly-dramatic soap opera, it causes its audience to think more deeply about the power of decisions and the importance of relationships, thus making it a film worth viewing. Overall, it is a study of ethical and moral decision-making and the meaning of commitment in love.

Rover Grade: 3 out of 4 stars

Film Rating: PG-13

Crystal Avila is a senior studying Film and Television. After spending a summer in L.A., she wishes more and more that Notre Dame had some mountain views. If you ever want to go hiking, see a movie with her, or get a movie suggestion, contact her at