Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 13 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways.
Director/writer Derek Cianfrance’s film, based on M.L. Stedman’s best-selling 2012 novel, can be seen as a tale of two kinds of love. One is the strong desire to possess regardless of consequences, and the other the willingness to give up oneself to do what is right. It is a bittersweet tale of romance and loss set in a lighthouse on an island off the western coast of Australia shortly after WW 1.
War veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), wounded in spirit by his war experiences embraces the solitude afforded him by tending the flame of the lighthouse. His mainland employers appreciate his good work, and, when he woos and marries the spirited Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who had caught his eye upon his earlier arrival, his happiness seems complete. However, their bliss is dissolved by two miscarriages. Then comes the day when they spy a life boat drifting off shore. There is a man and an infant girl wrapped in blankets.
The man is dead, but the baby is very much alive, crying out to be fed. Isabel sees this as an answer to her prayers. Tom argues against their keeping the child, pointing out that there must be others related to the infant. “She doesn’t belong to us. We can’t keep her.” Isabel, seeing the baby as the means of healing her broken heart, keeps on insisting, so Tom buries the body of the man and removes the 2nd of the two crosses marking the graves of their own children. Isabel’s family and their friends on the island are overjoyed that the couple at last have a child. They rejoice when she is christened Lucy-Grace.
Several years pass, and Lucy-Grace grows into the adorable child that fulfills their hopes and expectations for happiness. Then comes the day when they meet Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), a widow and daughter of a rich man living near the village. Her husband and infant daughter were lost at sea after a dispute with her father, who had objected to their marriage. Back home on the island, Tom and Isabel again argue over the fate of Lucy-Grace. His wife is as adamant as ever that they carry on as if nothing had happened, but The more sensitive Tom is conscience stricken. On their next trip to the mainland to visit their family he does something that will further change their lives forever, threatening all of their lives with suffering, including the toddler. The unforeseen consequences will also involve a murder charge, which will result in act of love far grater than Isabel’s love for “their” child, one of unselfish sacrifice.
This is the kind of romantic tale that Hollywood was noted for 60 or 70 years ago. Often it was a mother who makes the sacrifice for her child’s happiness, such as in the 1937 Barbara Stanwyck film Stella Dallas. That this theme can continue to move the hearts of viewer s is well attested to by this powerful film. A group can have a fine time exploring the various kinds of love, including maternal love and sacrificial love, depicted so well in this film. If you are not a little moist eyed during the concluding scene in this film, you are a hard case indeed! Also, the nature of “happiness” can be explored, that as expressed in the above Psalm (and Christ’s Beatitudes), and that as Isabel sees it, dependent upon their acquiring “their own” child.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the September issue of VP.
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No time for me to come up with my own questions, but I have a good alternative in friend Ryan Parker’s excellent guide available at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/z0hp8j5ntfxh6yj/LIGHT%20BETWEEN%20OCEANS%20Guide.pdf?d