“The Light Between Oceans” takes place as Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns to Western Australia after World War I. Having lost many friends, he wants a job that allows him peace, quiet, and time to reflect. Accepting temporary employment as a lighthouse keeper on remote Janus Island, he welcomes the solitude.
Love and Loss
When his position becomes permanent upon the death of the previous keeper, Tom meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of one of the owners. The two begin a correspondence that ends with their marriage and Isabel joins Tom at the lighthouse. Their love shines through in the small things of daily life but also in all they endure, including two miscarriages. Then a dinghy washes ashore. Inside Tom and Isabel find a dead man and a baby who is very much alive. Tom wants to do the right thing and report the incident but Isabel pleads with him not to and they raise the child as their own.
During one of their trips to civilization, Tom hears the story of a woman, Hannah Roennfeldt (a superb Rachel Weisz). She married a German and so became an outcast among her own. When her husband was attacked, he fled with their child in a small boat but never returned. Tom immediately knows that the child he and Isabel have been raising is Hannah’s lost child. The decision to keep the child, motivated by love, now comes back to haunt Tom and Isabel. Little Lucy-Grace is the one caught in the middle.
Although melodramatic at times, this moving story of love, loss, and sacrifice resonates on many levels. We understand a grieving woman’s wish to have a child of her own and the desperate actions she might take to fulfill that wish. We understand a loving husband’s bad decision in response to his wife’s pained pleading. We sympathize with the woman who has lost both husband and child, never really knowing what happened to them. We know that both mothers want what’s best for Lucy-Grace. We also may very well understand, at least to a certain degree, what it was like for the Sherbournes, especially Tom, to shoulder the guilt of their wrong decision.
Rightly so, emotions run high in “The Light Between Oceans” and therein, as Shakespeare says, lies the rub. When decisions are made based on emotion alone without due consideration of the consequences, is when people tend to get into trouble, like Tom did. Morally-speaking, emotions are neither good nor bad, they just are. It’s the actions that they spawn that can be good or bad. The great gift of being human is that we have the power to choose. At the risk of sounding cliché, with that power comes great responsibility.
Accepting responsibility for one’s own actions is considered one of the core building blocks of character, something to teach our kids both by word and example. With the popularity of finger-pointing at others in our society, a story like “The Light Between Oceans,” used age-appropriately, of course, could provide parents and teachers with a powerful opportunity to talk about how making good decisions isn’t always easy and how important it is to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.