There has been a lot of criticism of this film since it opened. One negative word is the fact that the pacing of the early scenes tarry. The early moments could have used a sharper edit, to involve the audience more quickly. The film runs 133 minutes, so there was room for at least ten minutes to be cut.
With that said, there are far more strengths to the film that eclipse any weaknesses.
First, there is the before mentioned beauty of the film. Surely there will be a cinematography nomination for “The Light.” I have never been one of those who have a special affection for lighthouses, but after an hour or more of watching that island and the lighthouse on it, I was almost ready to move there.
There are also stellar performances from one Oscar nominee, Michael Fassbender, and two Oscar winners, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz. This film only works if you truly care for all three of these characters.
I admit that originally I was siding with Fassbender’s Tom and Vikander’s Isabel, but suddenly I found myself sympathizing with Weisz. The strength of the this film is a trio of characters which all pull at the heartstrings of the audience. And at the moment that all three are against one another, the film strains for resolution, though it almost seems impossible.
The screenplay is based on a novel by M. L. Steadman. I have no experience with the book, but if the film follows the same story, it is quite a tale. A young man, who has experienced World War I, wants a quieter life once the conflict is over. He takes a position running a light house off the coast of New Zealand. Shortly after taking the job, he takes a bride. The couple loses two babies. Then fate steps in. A rowboat floats to the island. Inside the boat is a dead adult man and living baby girl. Against his choice to report the incident, the wife convinces her husband they should claim the girl as their own.
The film version, and I assume the book as well, depicts the love of parents and children. In this case, it explores the love of adoptive parents and a natural mother as well. Through conversations, the audience understands how the baby ends up where she was. It is coincidence that the father discovers the truth, and must determine what is the best course of action, at least from his point of view.
Some might find that there are too many coincidences in the story, but I have often said, there are many coincidences in life, so therefore they can also exist in fiction.
I suppose the one thing I liked most about the film is the moral questions. Right and wrong are simple, until they are not. This film is about choices, as is life. I am not sure that anything similar to this plot would happen in the real world, but then again, stranger things have happened. Very often, choices are made that injure others, intentionally or not.
I guess in the end, the greatest point in the film comes from a flashback of the man who died in the row boat; he said these words, “If you forgive, you only have to do it once. If you resent, you have to do that every day. That’s too much work. I choose to forgive.”