by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
A fictitious island off Western Australia marks the division of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. A lighthouse there in the early 20th century directs trade ships to safe harbors. It’s also a hundred miles from anywhere and the man hired to maintain the light and keep it functioning confronts daily isolation.
The film was actually shot mostly in New Zealand and some on the Australian island of Tasmania. The ocean-scape is magnanimous, sweeping, and beautifully captured by the cinematographer, Adam Arkapaw. Throughout the film, the ocean-scape is placed in juxtaposition to macro close-ups of the actors, with captivating results. The gorgeous shots of the lighthouse located on the north end of the South Island of New Zealand at Cape Campbell are a bonus for the viewer.
The story we see depicts Tom (Michael Fassbender), just returned from the Great War in Europe, as he is offered the temp job at the lighthouse as the “keeper” while the incumbent seeks medical (mental health) treatment. Tom meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a life-long resident of the nearby mainland, and it’s love at first sight. A rather “old fashioned” early 20th century genre romanticism prevails throughout the film.
When a small rowboat washes up on the beach below the lighthouse Tom finds a crying baby and her dead father. Isabel is convinced this is an answer to prayer since she’s had two miscarriages. Despite his best thinking, Tom agrees to go along with Isabel’s charade that this is their own biological child.
What follows is a set of circumstances and a wrestling with truth, honesty, isolation and integrity. Those choices run right into the birth mother who believes her husband and child were lost at sea.
Based upon understanding our Christian call, doing the right thing is something we strive for. Life presents some very complicated events that call us right back into prayerfully dealing with the chances and changes of our life. Our judgments can become clouded. Often we are helped by a still, small voice. At the end of this film you may find yourself asking, “What would I have done in this situation?”
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels