Rating: Very Severe
Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Wiesz, Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson
Spoiler alert in effect.
This has been the most anticipated movie of the year for me, other than Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I read the novel on which it’s based on earlier this year, after stumbling upon the trailer while YouTubing, and I’ve replayed that trailer more times than imaginable in the lead-up to watching it in the cinemas.
I love love love the concept of the story! It felt original, fresh and simple all at the same time. At it’s core, it’s a love story but not your typical teenage angsty one. It talks about a simple love, set in the “olden days” of Australia, just after World War I. No phones, no computers, no Internet; just telegrams and mail. What makes it even more profound is that a good chunk of the book is set on a fictional lighthouse island named Janus, off the coast of Western Australia, expounding the isolation and the “bubble” world that Tom and Isabel, the main characters, live on. You honestly get the sense of “it’s just you and me and no one else” feeling when they stay for months on end alone on that island. And then a baby comes on shore, on a boat, with her father dead beside her. After several miscarriages, Isabel is at this point desperate for a child and takes this as a sign from God that she was meant to raise this baby.
Now I’ve read lots of reviews where people scoff at the ridiculous notion that Isabel and Tom choose to keep the child, even when they know the child’s mother is alive and grieving. But if you put yourself in Isabel’s shoes, the only rational thought would be to keep the child! She was in deep depression after her miscarriages, and seeing a baby arrive on the very island they’re living on, from her perspective at least, must be more than a coincidence. And Tom, being the nicest guy on planet Earth, manages to battle his conscience in an attempt to make his wife happy. I can understand their decision. What’s right or wrong here? Is it truly wrong to want to care for a child? Is that not a natural instinct? But is it right to keep that child if you know their mother is alive? None of these have straightforward answers. This is why I think the novel is just wonderfully written. Every reader can surely relate to some character or concept, whether it be family or morals or forgiveness. It demands each reader to think about what is right and what is wrong. I highly recommend it!
Phew, that felt more like a book review. But I feel it’s important to understand what the book is trying to convey in order to assess whether the film has achieved that.
What first attracted me to the film when I watched the trailer was not only the story, but the actors. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. Hollywood’s underrated actors. I’ve seen Fassbender in X-Men obviously, but I loved his convincing portrayal of Steve Jobs last year, and his challenging roles in 12 Years a Slave and Hunger. With Vikander, she was the “It” girl of Hollywood last year. She was in a string of highly-acclaimed movies, including her Oscar-winning role in The Danish Girl, along with Ex Machina and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Their chemistry is palpable in this film. Like seriously, you should just watch this film because of these two. Derek Cianfrance (the director) is an actual cupid. Like he matched these two (who are now dating in real life) as well as Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes (The Place Beyond the Pines). If you’re having dating troubles, contact this guy.
Anyways, I watched this in cinemas a couple of days before my last ever uni exam, which goes to show how much I wanted to see this film. The performances themselves were worth watching it for, and are definitely Oscar-worthy. And not just Fassbender and Vikander, but Rachel Wiesz too. She plays Hannah, the biological mother of the child. They all capture the emotional essence of their characters without overacting or becoming larger than life. Especially for Fassbender, who is able to convey a range of emotions despite his character being very reserved and subdued.
The other outstanding aspect was the cinematography. There were plenty of wide sweeping shots of the ocean and beach. I think most of it was filmed in New Zealand, despite being set in Australia. I don’t quite remember if this is true, but I think it was because of tax reasons. Regardless, it’s still a magnificent place and you can literally hear the wind howling down by the shore. In interviews I’ve watched with the cast, they often comment on the sheer strength of the wind and how loud it was. An interesting tidbid you may not know is Cianfrance’s interesting directing method. Vikander mentioned in interviews that her first ever scene wasn’t even really a proper scene. She was basically taken from her hotel room in a car while blindfolded and locked in a small shed with no windows. That’s where her hair and makeup were done. She was left in there until a crew member came in and said that Derek had cameras ready outside and told her to just walk out and react to her environment. So when she walked out into the island, she wasn’t acting, she was genuinely responding instinctively to being in a new place. I found this a really cool way to capture the authenticity of a moment. Not only that, but the main cast actually lived on location during the shoot. They were just like their characters, living in isolation on the island, with the buffeting winds and tall cliffs. I think this helped the actors give more authentic performances and made it seem real.
In terms of the music, I remember the sound of the wind and ocean in the first few minutes of the movie, coupled with the legendary Alexandre Desplat’s score. He might not be a familiar name to you (although he definitely should be!) but he’s written scores for so many iconic films, such as the last two Harry Potter movies, Imitation Game, Argo, Danish Girl and even a Twilight movie. If you haven’t already checked out his music, you should. The score for this film is just as outstanding. It’s really able to capture the tranquility and strength of nature, and really accentuates the emotional intensity, especially during the dramatic moments, like during the storm or when Lucy is taken away.
I’d be surprised if this gets no Oscar nods, especially for the main cast or cinematography. But who knows? This year has seen a really good mix of films with strong acting, so there will be stiff competition.
What I find interesting is that all 3 leads are non-Australian, despite it being a story set in Australia. The rest of the supporting cast seem to be predominantly Australian, which is good to see for our industry. And what I find mildly irritating is that none of the lead characters have an Australia accent! Even though their characters are Australian, they have a British accent. I’m a little cheesed off at this, because I think it would’ve added more authenticity to preserve their character’s accent. The part I found really weird is cutting out the scene in the book where Frank is chased away onto the boat with Lucy. Apparently they already shot this but chose not to include it, which is strange because it’s a really integral scene. It shows the audience why Frank decided to go on a boat out into the ocean and shows the racial tension at that time after the war, which is another main theme running throughout the book. Hopefully it’ll be on the deleted scenes.
Overall, emotionally, it stays true to the book. It makes you feel the same emotions as when you read the book. It’s fine to watch the movie without having read the book, but as is the case with any book-movie adaptation, there will always be more detail in the books. I highly recommend both and if you like any sweeping romance combined with drama, definitely give this a shot.
For your interest, here are a few ratings from other sites. I’ll always put them at the end so that you can choose whether or not you wish to see them before you go watch the film. I find that critic ratings often skew my perception of a film, and I’d rather base my thoughts on what an average movie-goer thinks. Cinemascore is more ideal, since it’s based on what actual people think straight after watching the movie in cinemas.
1. Do you think the film does justice to the book or does it fall short?
2. Do you think it was right/justifiable for Isabel to take the baby as her own? Was it right for Tom to alert Hannah about Lucy while going behind Isabel’s back?