The Light Between Oceans
Tom Sherbourne returned to Australia in 1918. The Great War was over. And as was true for many other battered and wounded soldiers in the wake of that horrible struggle, it was time for Tom to go home.
Tom's wounds weren't physical. But they were painful nonetheless. He had seen such terrible things. He had lived when so many better men had not. So taking a temporary post as a lighthouse keeper on the empty, lonely island of Janus seemed to be a perfect fit. It would afford him a chance to think, to process, hopefully to heal.
His solitary plans are broadsided, however, when he gets invited to a luncheon on the mainland and meets a woman named Isabel. She's beautiful and warm, gentle and wise. And even though he's not a man for quick banter or windy conversations, Isabel coaxes him to open parts of his heart he thought closed forever. And she shares her own losses brought on by the war.
After a brief period of correspondence and visits to the mainland, their relationship takes what Isabel always saw as an inevitable turn. They marry and return to Tom's isolated island to be lonely no more. And they begin to plan for life not just as husband and wife, but as father and mother. Life is indeed a blessing, filled with grace and hope.
But, again, the stuff of life isn't always what we plan. After several miscarried pregnancies, Tom and Isabel's blissful hopes begin to dim. Isabel's longing for a child becomes nearly as painful as Tom's own emotional post-war agony had been. Yet, in this case, he feels powerless to salve her wounds as she once mended his.
Then one day a wailing baby washes ashore in a battered rowboat.
The man in the boat with the child is dead. And there's no hint of where they came from or how they became lost at sea. It's something the authorities must look into. All Isabel can see, though, is the beautiful baby girl she now comforts in her arms.
Was this meant to be? Did God intend this child to be theirs? Tom assures her that can't be true. And it's his duty to notify the authorities on the distant mainland. But Isabel persists. No one would know that this tiny blessing was not their baby. After all, it will be months before the next boat arrives to deliver supplies.
Tom knows the right thing to do. He knows what he must do. But then he looks in the pleading eyes of the most precious person he's ever known. The only precious person he's ever known.
And he makes a decision.
It will only require that he not make mention of the infant's arrival in his log. It will only require just that one, small lie.
And may God forgive them.
In spite of this sin of omission, Tom and Isabel are wonderful and devoted parents. They love their daughter, whom they name Lucy, and give her every bit of love they can. And the film makes it clear that being parents is a life-changing calling.
[Spoiler Warning] Upon visiting the mainland years later, however, Tom and Isabel learn the story behind Lucy's arrival on Janus. And Tom is struck by the fact that their great gain was someone else's great pain. When meeting Lucy's biological mother, Hannah, Tom is filled with guilt over his actions. Being the honest and good man he is, he eventually realizes he must reveal the truth, no matter how emotionally agonizing that process will be. There are also criminal charges involved, which Tom determines to accept for himself alone, shielding Isabel from the taint of any wrongdoing. Of course, when the truth sees the light of day, a great deal of anger is unleashed toward Tom: from the local police, from Hannah and her family and from Isabel, too. The two women must separately find a pathway to forgiveness. Hannah remembers something that her German husband, Franz, once said. "You only have to forgive once," he tells her. "To be resentful, you have to do it all day, all the time. That's far too much work."
Though neither Tom nor Isabel speak directly of their faith, several scenes in the film indicate that it's an important part of their lives. After each miscarriage, Tom and Isabel put small crosses behind their house to mark each baby's passing. They also desire to have little Lucy baptized, and we see the church ceremony with the vicar christening the child in the name of Christ.
It's also made plain that Tom is a moral man who wrestles with his choices. He feels deep guilt about being a sinful man who survived the war when so many other men he considered better than himself perished. ##
Though Tom and Isabel suffer through a painful penalty for their choices, the film makes it clear that they are forgiven on multiple fronts. Years later, Isabel tells her husband that she hopes God can forgive her for her selfish choices, and Tom tells her, "He forgave you a long time ago. It's time you did, too."
Tom tells a woman who's lost her spouse, "Your husband is at peace in God's hand." Another character prays for her daughter.
After Tom and Isabel marry we see them together in bed in scenes that are mostly designed to help us see how their intimacy is a healing salve for Tom's brokenness. For instance, while laying together, he traces letters on her bare back with his finger. She sounds out the words he's spelling: "You make me feel at peace."
Both are apparently nude in these moments, though strategically covered. One shadowy camera shot pictures Isabel topless with her hair covering her breasts. A lovemaking scene includes kissing, as well as realistic sounds and motions. Tom kisses his wife’s unclothed and obviously pregnant stomach.
Isabel suffers two agonizing miscarriages onscreen. Neither are graphic, but we do see her buckling from the pain, and we glimpse smears of blood on her dresses. One miscarriage takes place during a violent storm, and Tom discovers his wife the next day unconscious on the ground outside of the lighthouse.
We hear that a man is harassed because of his German heritage. A doctor surmises that the deceased man in the boat died of a heart attack.
Crude or Profane Language
One misuse of Christ's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
To follow through on his choice to keep Lucy, Tom buries her anonymous father in an unmarked grave.
When we think of what usually constitutes a big-screen love story, it often involves elements of romance and/or heartbreak. But there's so much more than hearts and flowers to consider when it comes to genuine love. There's the longsuffering commitment. The devotion. The ardor. The agonies. The sacrifice.
Accordingly, this compelling period piece goes far beyond a story of superficial infatuation or the ache of a romantically broken heart. Along the way, it illustrates much more fully than most romantic movies what a lifetime of true love really looks like in action.
The Light Between Oceans focuses upon the healing love a woman gives a wounded man and his complete, impassioned devotion given in return. It examines a wrong choice made for the right reasons, and it chronicles the incredible joy and soul-wrenching pain that come from it. Along the way, this thoughtful story quietly ruminates on the bedrock attribute of lasting love: forgiveness.
In that sense, this is one of the more thoughtful films about relationships I've seen recently. And while it isn't explicitly a movie about God, The Light Between Oceans powerfully, poignantly deals with the passion, sacrifice, grace and moral truth that originate from that heavenly source.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Michael Fassbender as Tom Sherbourne; Alicia Vikander as Isabel Graysmark; Rachel Weisz as Hannah Roennfeldt; Florence Clery as Lucy-Grace; Leon Ford as Franz Roennfeldt
September 2, 2016