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The Light Between Oceans

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I'm thinking about The Light Between Oceans, a movie in the historical romance genre. It opened on September 2, which is called a "fall release" in Hollywood marketing terms, though sticklers will point to the calendar and say it was released in the summer.

It was not a huge commercial success. I saw it, in a less-than-packed theater, that first weekend. It was sixth at the box office that weekend.

SPOILER ALERT. Don't read further if you plan to see the movie and may want to be surprised by the plot twists, such as they are.

But commercial success isn't what I'm thinking about this morning. I'm thinking about the "compare and contrast" the movie makers set up between their story and the classic Bible story about Solomon and a baby.

Much of the film takes place on a small island off the coast of northwestern Australia, where the protagonist couple tend a lighthouse. There is talk about how critical the lighthouse is, as the Indian and Pacific Oceans meet there. Thus the resonant title of the movie.

We're in the 1920s, and Tom Sherbourne has served honorably in war, but has become morose and withdrawn, which renders him perfect for the lighthouse post. The courtship of Tom and the woman who joins him on that island as his wife, Isabel, nee Graysmark, is sketched in quickly.

Their married life on the island is painted idyllically, but for two miscarriages. After the second of these, by marvelous synchronicity, a dinghy washes up on shore with a grown man's dead body and a still-living baby girl. Since the outside world knows only of Isabel's second pregnancy -- it doesn't yet know of the miscarriage -- the couple decides upon a deception. They tell the world that Isabel has given birth (somewhat prematurely) to the expected baby. Then they raise this child, Lucy, as their own.

Four years pass, and we see Lucy Sherbourne happily walking, talking, fully adapted to life on an island and devoted to the parents she knows. At this point, the biological parents enter the picture, because they've finally managed to get the authorities curious about the disappearance of their child and of its uncle -- the dead fellow on that dinghy.

Now at this point you, my educated reader, will see the point of my mention of Solomon above. He hit upon a happy decision to another dilemma involving two women both of whom claimed to be the mother of one baby: threaten the baby's life! The one mother willing to give up her claim, for the baby's sake, is the true mother.

This novel differs from the bible story in a number of ways. One of these is that there is no Wise Authority called upon to make a decision. The authorities are more interested in a murder mystery than in a custody issue. We, the viewers, know there was no murder, but the authorities don't know that and the question of the manner of the uncle's death distracts them.

The question of who will raise the child for the rest of her childhood, and whether she will come to see herself as "Lucy" or as "Grace," -- these matters are decided by happenstance with a lot of bumbling along and muddling through. BUT the parallel to the Solomon case holds. The mother willing to give up her claim is in the end the mother more fit to care for Lucy-Grace. The right choice makes itself, in the absence of a King to make it.

Not just a weepy, then. Superior, I think, to the Nicholas Sparks stuff with which it has been compared.


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