On Blu-ray from DreamWorks Pictures is one of my favorite films of 2016. “The Light Between Oceans” is a film that captures everything about being a flawed and frail human being. Surrounded by only the ocean, a lighthouse and miles of nothingness, “The Light Between Oceans” doesn’t confound with special effects but instead dares us to feel — everything!
Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) is a man looking for isolation after experiencing war. Taking a job as a lighthouse keeper, he finds exactly what he needs. In the middle of the ocean stands a lighthouse on an island where he begins the process of inner healing. What he doesn’t expect is to fall in love with the beautiful Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), who shares his love of isolation.
The two begin their lives at the lighthouse with the hope of having a family. When it becomes clear that Isabel only suffers from trying to have a child, a drifting row boat brings them a miracle baby.
Their life becomes even happier as the years roll like the waves. While visiting family, Tom sees a mysterious woman named Hannah (Rachel Weisz), who has the potential to change all of their lives
I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with writer/director Derek Cianfrance about what drew him to the film, the process to find the perfect place to film and his hopes for what the audience will take away from the film.
Jeri Jacquin: I wanted to first say that “The Light Between Oceans” is absolutely brilliant on so many levels. It’s beautiful, moving, original and cinematically stunning.
Derek Cianfrance: Well, thank you. I do so appreciate that, my mother-in-law agrees with you.
JJ: That’s because she’s got amazing taste. Can you tell me how you became involved with the film?
DC: Coming off my film “A Place Beyond the Pines” (2012) I was looking for an experience doing an adaptation and was reading scripts that I wasn’t making a connection to. I had a meeting with DreamWorks because Steven Spielberg was a big fan of “Blue Valentine” (2010), so they asked me to come in and talk about what was next for me.
There was this pile of books they gave me when I left, and the book on top was “A Light Between Oceans,” and I was intrigued. I thought about it cinematically, about a lighthouse keeper, and thought it mirrored the experience of being in a movie — a light shining out projecting through the darkness, and so I started reading the book.
JJ: What about the book touched you?
DC: I just felt it strongly had the themes of family, forgiveness, legacy, paternity and relationships that I have been exploring in my own movies. I felt like it had this rock-solid narrative that I was really interested in exploring. It took me about a year to get it, and I had the book memorized by that point. It was just a total privilege to be working on the film.
JJ: That is a big part of what I so love about the film. First of all, I love the isolation idea of lighthouses and I’m sure many have wondered about that life at one time or another. Even more so is that there isn’t an emotion in this film that doesn’t illicit strong responses. When there is sadness you feel it strongly, when there is moral conflict it is so intense, when there are moments of joy you embrace it, and I have to say, I was emotionally exhausted by the film’s end.
DC: For me too!
JJ: Exactly for you! Was it difficult to find this amazing location? How long did it take you to find it?
DC: It took me about six months to find the location because it is fictitious in the book. I wanted to find a place where I would be isolated with my actors, and I started out going to Australia going to every island lighthouse I could find. We were almost ready to shoot off the coast of Tasmania when another film came in.
New Zealand was close by and they had an offer for us to bring the film there, and the first thing I did was go to every lighthouse island I could find and there were great locations. So one by one, it was either the lighthouse was too short or there was an indigenous population of endangered lizards were on the island so no human beings could go there.
Finally, the very last place I looked was this place called Cape Campbell, and initially I was resistant to go there because it is all about process for my actors wanting them to feel and have an emotional experience. The problem was it was literally an hour’s long drive down a dirt road to get to the lighthouse location.
JJ: Seems as if the location spoke to you in an important way.
DC: Absolutely. I wanted to keep the film very true to the location, so when it came time to present it there were questions about how to get a large crew there. That’s when I said I would rather have 10 crew people living at the location than 30 hauling back and forth. We talked it over in great detail how to make it work.
JJ: Did you have to talk with the actors about that decision as well?
DC: Yes, I actually called Michael Fassbender and told him my idea. I explained that living at the shooting location would bring the actors an amazing experience. Being surrounded by the wind, waves and the isolation that his character is feeling is a major part of telling this story. He told me he’d give me a day to show him how it would all come together, and seven weeks later we filmed an amazing story.
JJ: What do you want people who see “The Light Between Oceans” to take away from the film?
DC: When putting a book like “The Light Between Oceans” on the screen, it is important to make sure every aspect of the story is there. There are, of course, very strong themes in this film of love and family and those ties that keep us together. I think that the one thing I hope audiences take from the film is that of forgiveness.
JJ: Congratulations and thank you Derek for bringing such a beautiful film to us all.
I have read the novel by M.L. Stedman and believe director Cianfrance took what I saw in my mind and transformed it straight to screen. Fassbender, Vikander and Weisz bring such depth of emotion, laying everything out bare from these broken characters that, at times, it is heartbreaking to watch. In other words, it is everything I want from a story.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see “The Light Between Oceans,” then pick up your own copy on Blu-ray and Digital HD. This is a film to be experienced at such a deep level that I highly recommend tissue.
In the end — love demands everything!