The Light Between Oceans is based on the first novel by M L Stedman, a Western Australian author now living in London. The author refuses to talk about herself, wanting the reader to enjoy her story without looking for autobiographical elements. However, it is hard not to speculate about how much of the pain that is described in the book/film is personal.
Without giving too much away, the film starts in 1918 with Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a quiet man deeply scarred by his WW1 experiences, applying for the temporary job of lighthouse keeper on Janus Island. He wants to be by himself but even in the first few minutes we see his interest in Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Wikander). The film doesn't make the mistake of showing war memory flashbacks: enough films have shown us how terribly survivors were damaged by their trench experiences but the crashing of the waves round this isolated lighthouse do sound eerily like guns at times. Sherbourne comes back to the mainland to be offered the job permanently but he also wants to see Isabel and so their loves grows, she marries him and goes to live on the island with him. The first months are idyllic and wonderful; the two lovers enjoy the solitude and each other's company and Isabel falls pregnant. Her losses and the discovery of a baby in a boat mark a turning point for the couple: the desperation of a stricken mother against the duty of a lighthouse keeper to report all incidents and the repercussions of the decision drives the plot. The title of the book reflects the position of the lighthouse: the (fictional) Janus Island is possibly off the western tip of Australia where the Indian and the Southern oceans meet. Anything can happen here.
The acting in this film is superb: Michael Fassbender movingly portrays the mentally scarred man who finds love yet is also driven by duty and what he feels is right. Alicia Wikander (now Fassbender's real life partner) has to run the gamut of emotions: child-like and free to anguished and distraught which she performs convincingly. Rachel Weisz, too, is superb as Hannah – without giving the plot away she, too, must express so many different emotions and make difficult moral decisions.
The films teeters, I think, on the edge of mawkishness. You have to suspend disbelief to a certain extent and the music is occasionally over the top. What more than makes up for these, though, are the acting and the extraordinarily beautiful, wild settings in New Zealand and Tasmania. The cinematography is by Adam Arkapaw, an Australian cinematographer and much credit should go to him for visual experience of the film. This film is worth seeing for its sheer beauty.