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Movie Review

The Light Between Oceans also known as “A Luz Entre Oceanos,” “Fyren mellan haven,” “Fény az ócean felett,” “La luz entre los océanos,” “Svetlo između okeana,” “Svjetlo izmedju oceana,” “Swiatlo miedzy oceanami,” “Une vie entre deux océans,” “Valo valtameren yllä”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and some sexual content.

Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Genre:
Romance Drama Adaptation
Length:
2 hr. 12 min.
Year of Release:
2016
USA Release:
September 2, 2016 (wide—1,500+ theaters)
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios

miscarriages and stillbirth

adopted child

adoption in the Bible

orphans

losing friends and family to war

dealing with the psychological trauma of war / PTSD

Issue of pain and suffering

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

Right and wrong

How do I know what is right from wrong? Answer

How can I decide whether a particular activity is wrong? Answer

sin and the fall of man

goodness and righteousness

Are we living in a moral Stone Age? Answer

Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

How good is good enough? Answer

Do Not Enter


forgiving others

Featuring: Alicia VikanderIsabel Sherbourne
Michael FassbenderTom Sherbourne
Rachel WeiszHannah Roennfeldt
Bryan Brown … Septimus Potts
Caren Pistorius … Adult Lucy Grace
Jack Thompson … Ralph Addicott
more »
Director: Derek Cianfrance—“The Place Beyond the Pines” (2012), “Blue Valentine” (2010)
Producer: Heyday Films
LBO Productions
more »
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures, a division of Walt Disney Studios

“Love demands everything”

Grief can be terribly heavy, seemingly too much to bear. But so, too, is the burden of guilt that comes with an untold secret. How do these measure against the weight of love? This is the dilemma of “The Light Between Oceans.” What can grief drive a person to do against his or her better judgment? How much love does it take to forgive?

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

This is a thoughtful, well-made film which delves into these questions in a heart-wrenching way. The viewer may be left with strong opinions about who was right and who was wrong in all that transpires.

How do I know what is right from wrong? Answer

Technically, the movie was beautifully shot with sweeping scenes of the ocean and the island, with terrific acting from two Oscar® winners and one Oscar® nominee, as well as the supporting cast. The direction is excellent (especially considering that the source material was a best-selling novel—by M.L. Stedman), and there is a moving musical score.

Some may find it to be “too slow,” and truly it does not have the frenetic pacing of many other movies today. It does not need fast-pacing… it is the slow deliberate build up of this film and the development of characters, as they face their dilemma, that really gives it the power to move the viewer and make them think.

This is a film that is especially difficult to review without giving away major plot points. I will try not to reveal anything that is not already shown in the trailers. If you have not watched the previews for this movie and want to see it without too much being revealed, please skip the main body of this review and go down to “areas of concern” near the bottom.

I have never before watched a film by this director, nor have I seen the work of two of the lead actors, although I understand that they are quite popular at this time. I believe the best performance comes from Michael Fassbender, who does a remarkable job of portraying Tom Sherbourne, a man haunted by four years, amidst pain and death, on the brutal Western Front in World War I. Tom feels guilt at having survived, when others did not. His eyes always seem to be looking off into the distance, as if he is afraid to focus too closely on what is immediate and present. We clearly see the effect of the war on Tom, through great acting, without having to actually witness wartime scenes of brutality and loss. He seeks refuge on an isolated island as a lighthouse keeper.

When Tom meets young and strikingly beautiful Isabel (Alicia Vikander), he sees in her a life which is in stark contrast to his own closed off and lonely existence. She radiates innocence, joyful exuberance and hope, despite having suffered great loss from the war, as well. Tom is learning to feel again, and Isabel is happy to be his wife on the windswept rock island of Janus, a hundred miles from any other living person. Their joy together as a married couple feels very real.

People often think they can avoid sorrow and pain by removing themselves from the world, and it seems, at first, that the couple in this film has found a way to escape painful memories. But their idyllic existence on Janus is soon shattered by loss, as they try to begin a family.

These scenes were difficult for me to watch, as I have gone through pregnancy loss 6 times (4 miscarriages and 2 tubal pregnancies), with one living child. One of my main desires in seeing this film was to see if the filmmakers “got it right” when it comes to this sensitive subject, and I must say that they did. They captured the utter helplessness that both husband and wife feel when this happens, and the crushing despair of realizing that the child you thought you would soon hold in your arms is gone. Miscarriage and stillbirth are seldom portrayed in media, although they are a terrible reality for many couples. I am so thankful that the filmmakers chose to show the raw emotion of this very specific sort of grief.

There was opportunity here to go even a step farther and show the humanity of a stillborn baby. In the source novel, the couple hold and bathe their premature dead son before his burial, and I was waiting to see how this scene would be handled. But the director chose not to show this, and instead cuts away immediately to a grave. I do wish that this scene from the novel had been included in this day when babies who have not reached full development are considered by so many to be mere “products of conception” and not an actual human being. Even so, the scenes of miscarriage and stillbirth and the couple’s reaction to these events are handled with a realism that I appreciated.

What is the eternal destiny of an infant or young child who dies? Answer

Can small children come to Christ to be saved? Answer

For those who may believe Isabel’s response to multiple pregnancy loss is overdone, take note that “the barren womb” is listed in Proverbs 30:16 as one of four things that is never satisfied. This may help you understand her desperation to have a child.

Tom escapes to his meticulous lighthouse duties, while Isabel mourns in her own way. When faced with the life-changing decision of what to do with the seemingly miraculous contents of a drifting rowboat, their judgment is clouded by their most recent loss. Tom is convinced that reporting the rowboat is the right thing to do, but is swayed by the pleas of his grieving wife, who believes their choice is clear. “We’re not doing anything wrong!” is Isabel’s protest. I have found that when this justification is given, it is because the person really does know on some level that they actually are doing something wrong.

What happens as a consequence of their choice makes up the remainder of the film. While Isabel has convinced herself that the foundling baby is only a miraculous blessing, Tom is wracked by guilt. He loves the child, but knows that what they have done is not right. James 4:17 says, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This struggle becomes increasingly difficult for Tom as the movie progresses, as he witnesses consequences which bring pain to many and in the balance of which is the life and future of a beloved child. Sin always brings unwelcome consequences in the lives of those who commit the sin and also in those who are innocent of the wrongdoing. That is clearly demonstrated in this film.

The movie poses what some would consider to be a great moral dilemma, one that stirs emotions and the desire for a good outcome for multiple characters. Through some outstanding acting and direction, one can feel empathy for characters on both sides of this dilemma. Rachel Weisz as Hannah Roennfeldt is utterly believable as a grieving widow and mother who is seeking answers, as she tries to hold on to memories of her kind husband Frank. As she struggles with the difficult situation with which she is now suddenly confronted, it is through her memories of Frank that she learns the freedom that comes through forgiveness.

Forgiveness is really the central theme of the latter half of the movie. How can one forgive when they have been so grievously wronged? How does one accept forgiveness when they do not believe they deserve it? Although the ultimate and everlasting forgiveness that can be found only through coming to Christ Jesus as our Savior is not portrayed here, one can see through the actions of various characters that there is great freedom to be found when we lay aside our own will and choose to forgive others. In one scene, a character prays to God that she would be able to give up her own selfish desires to do what is best for someone she loves. Although this prayer could be seen as some sort of a “bargain” with the Lord, the character shows a brokenness of spirit that paves the way to forgiveness and sets into motion a cascade of events leading toward the climax.

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FORGIVEN?—How can I be and feel forgiven? Answer

GUILT—If God forgives me every time I ask, why do I still feel so guilty? Answer

Although not presented in a context that specifically lifts up the Lord Jesus Christ, this idea of loving others more than yourself and forgiving those who have wronged you is a very biblical and redemptive theme rarely seen in movies today.

While this movie does contain such a positive element, there are a few areas of concern which are detailed below.

Areas of Concern

LANGUAGE: This movie is shockingly free of vulgar language. Early in, I believe I heard one muffled “hell,” but I may have been mistaken. A man exclaims “for Christ’s sake” in frustration and concern for another. And that was all that I noticed. I think that this movie could be a model for others, to show that vulgar language is completely unneeded in a film. Many people justify cursing, claiming that it is necessary to use foul language to show emotion or stress and that to not do so is unrealistic. The characters in this film are under great emotional tension, but coarse language is not needed to portray that, and there is no loss of realism. How refreshing!

SEX AND NUDITY: Where this film succeeded in language, it unfortunately fails in purity due to a few unnecessary scenes of sensuality. While nothing graphic is shown, there is a somewhat lengthy scene of the couple as they engage in intercourse for the first time on their wedding night. I appreciate that the director was trying to show the intimacy and tenderness of this moment, but it seems “too intimate,” as there are sounds and closely shot facial expressions with some movement (graphic nudity is obscured). It would be considered mild and even “tasteful” for modern movie standards, and is certainly not graphic, but it is completely unneeded. If this is an area of stumbling for the viewer, it is easy to avoid, as it happens shortly after the couple arrives at the lighthouse cottage together after their marriage and is made obvious by their entry into the bedroom. Another scene shows the husband kissing his wife’s nude belly, and the camera lingers a little too low past her naked hips. Again, the intention seems to be to show intimacy, but it may be too much for some viewers. On other occasions, we see the couple tracing fingers across each other’s bare backs (as shown in some previews), and there are a few passionate kisses between husband and wife. I do appreciate that all sensuality in this film was between a married couple, but I felt as if I was an intruder in private moments which should not be seen.

VIOLENCE: There is no outright violence. The director could have chosen to show flashbacks from Tom’s time in the war, but did not do so. The pain and fear of non-graphic, but realistically portrayed, medical emergencies may be difficult for some viewers to watch, and some blood is shown on clothing. A woman flails angrily at her husband, and he holds her hands down at her sides to stop her. Also, there is one scene in which a child is taken from another’s grasp in a forceful way, accompanied by crying and screams.

OTHER: Before a christening and baptism service for a toddler, a comment is heard about how the vicar is late because he is probably “sleeping off last night.” There are mentions of, and one scene of, racial injustice against a German, which was common after World War I. This is shown fairly subtly and with little explanation. I fear that some modern moviegoers may be so unfamiliar with this war that they will not understand why there is such hatred and prejudice toward this German man. This could have used a little more emphasis, which would have helped some viewers understand this character and his struggles living in postwar Australia. In one scene, a man explains the name origin for the island Janus, which comes from the Roman false god who is said to look both forward and behind. A character lies to authorities, in order to protect someone else, and this is shown in a positive light.

In conclusion, this is a beautifully made and thought-provoking film with powerful acting, a realistic portrayal of the painful consequences of sinful choices and a redemptive theme of forgiveness. Sadly, it would have been made much more watchable for a wide audience if the scenes of sensuality had been omitted.

One phrase from the film has remained with me. When asked how he remains happy even when others act unjustly toward him, a character replies, “You only have to forgive once.” While this can be true, it is difficult for us as fallen humans to forgive once and not keep revisiting the old hurt and opening fresh resentments. But when we come to our Lord in repentance and faith, He forgives us, once and for all. He is the One who truly only has to forgive once. And once He has forgiven us, He chooses not to remember our sin, but instead to cast it “as far as the east is from the west” as written in Psalm 103:12. While it is freeing to forgive those who have wronged us, and we can feel the relief of being forgiven by those we have wronged, this is nothing compared to the forgiveness we can receive from God through Jesus Christ.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Moderate to heavy

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—“The Light Between Oceans,” based on a book by the same name, is a thought-provoking but bitter-sweet romance film, with very good acting. Filmed in New Zealand and set in Australia, it is a Period Piece from the early 1900’s after the First World War. A Lighthouse keeper comes to a remote community after serving his country in the War, falls in love with a local girl, and they marry. As time goes by and they are unable to have children, they harbor a great secret that ultimately will cause despair. Although at first glance the movie is about miscarriage and the loss of a child, and that is a sub-theme that is presented very sensitively, in many ways the main theme is about the love, commitment and forgiveness that is required in marriage. The husband in the film is representative of everything a husband should be: sensitive, kind, loving and tries to protect his wife through all their difficulties.

There are many Christian and God references contained in the film and part of the story resolves after one of the characters prays. The scenery is breath-taking and lovely to watch. The movie is not fast moving, but rather slow as the story progresses and it highlights the true feelings between characters and the conflicting emotions contained in this very complex story. The morals in this movie are not bad, but the love-making scenes between the husband and wife that were at the beginning, I could have done without, and were a little too graphic with partial nudity.

One might say these were tastefully and realistically done for the most part, but I’m not sure they had to be included with that much detail. The expression “Too much information!” comes to mind, ha, and I’m still wondering how this could possibly be given a G rating in the province of Quebec. I also found the miscarriage scenes hard to watch which I mention because not all women would be able to cope with watching this if they had personally experienced it themselves.

The only swearing is when a character says, “For Christ’s Sake”. There is mention of the God Janus with his two faces facing toward the future and the other to the past. Also, there is a rude remark about a clergyman insinuating that he was recovering from a hang-over. One character is shown smoking in one scene. Although these are the offensive parts within the film, I have rated it as better than average because the characters are not engaging in sex outside of marriage and because of the emphasis on God’s forgiveness.

I recommend it cautiously as an excellent drama, but it is not without moments that may be offensive or upsetting to more sensitive viewers. I found it highly emotional and had to search for my Kleenexes, carrying this feeling with me for a while after I viewed the movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kathy Pj, age 56 (Canada)

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