“A mother’s love resembles the vast Pacific,” described a line in Vietnam’s most-famous ode to maternity.
There’s an extraordinary ocean in Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander)’s eyes. Its currents have power to cure the other parent, lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), from the horrors of World War I’s front lines. There’s also enough depth to house an overwhelming darkness, a place where Isabel feels eternally trapped in after two miscarriages.
It can raise enough waves to cause a sailor to lose his bearings, too. After rescuing a baby girl from a dinghy, Isabel pleads Tom to agree to raise the child—even if the decision means prolonging the grief of Hannah Roennfeldt (Rachel Weisz), who, for the longest time, believed her daughter was taken by the big blue.
Vikander, Fassbender and Weiss—for three of this generation’s acting luminaries to join forces means the project has a special kind of allure, and director Derek Cianfrance holds his own draw. His previous exhaustive voyages of passion, “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines,” prove only established navigators of cinematic emotion can carry the project. In a way, “Oceans” is a companion piece to that epic, set-in-Schenectady, New York tale, focusing on parenthood and how consequences of decisions create an often-devastating link between people.
As expected, then, is an insane level of naturalism from the main trio. It’s phenomenal to see how easily they dive into the darkest emotions. Vikander extends her acclaimed streak after “The Danish Girl” with another graceful performance, while Fassbender brings forth his soul even with a jaded shell. Weisz, although underused, shows the weight of all her festering aches with just a gaze or a restrained smirk.
These moments can easily drain one’s soul thanks to the stellar performances and Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography that stays close—almost invasive, even—to the characters. There’s an approach to the framing where honesty abounds, emphasizing the love, grief or isolation. “Everything I touch fades away,” Tom said at one point to a (charmingly) prying Isabel, amid swaying grass fields and the sun slowly bidding farewell to a lavender-colored sky. For most of the romantic scenes, the wind is always heard, otherwise the alternative would be Alexandre Desplat’s tender score.
Pain is to be expected, but Cianfrance’s unhurried style can make coasting through “Oceans” a taxing experience. Heartbreaking moments come often and, due to raw delivery, are intense, meaning it’s easy for the film to harvest your tears until there’s none. It can be a struggle to enjoy the film: Although “Oceans” has the components to make sure the film is enjoyable, but dig down a layer or two and you’ll find suffering rather than enjoyment.
But to endure the constant bruises is to witness the beauty of loneliness and the maelstrom-like displays of motherly love from Vikander.
The Light Between Oceans
Michael Fassbender (Tom Sherbourne), Alicia Vikander (Isabel Graysmark–Sherbourne), Rachel Weisz (Hannah Roennfeldt)
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Beyond the Pines”)
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, M.L Stedman (based on the novel by)
Music by: Alexandre Desplat (“The Imitation Game”)
Cinematography by: Adam Arkapaw (“Macbeth”)
132 min., PG-13
Release date: Sept. 2
7.5 out of 10.