This Is What Happens When Miscarriage Plays A Starring Role In A Movie

Photo: Courtesy of DreamWorks.
There are at least five good reasons to go see The Light Between Oceans when it hits theaters on September 2. First, the obvious: Michael Fassbender, who should be observed in high definition on a giant screen whenever possible. Second, the chemistry between Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, who are great together. If you loved the book and you wanted the movie to live up to it, that's your third reason, and fourth is that director Derek Cianfrance has done this love story gorgeous justice, and who couldn't use a little more of that in their life.

To some, the fifth reason may seem a little particular. But, in my opinion, it's one of the things that will stick with you long after the rolling credits. The Light Between Oceans pays homage to a female experience that often gets maligned and deserves its moment in the spotlight: the heartache and physical pain of miscarriage.

If you've read the novel, bear with me during a moment of explication (and if you haven't, please rest assured that the paragraphs to come won't spoil anything you don't already know about the film from its trailer). The The Light Between Oceans is, at its heart, a story about a man who loves his wife so much that he will do almost anything to secure her happiness. Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) has returned to Australia after fighting in World War I. Seeking solace and silence, he winds up with a job as a lighthouse keeper. Sherbourne meets a woman while on the mainland, Isabel (Vikander), who becomes his wife. They live together on their isolated island, content with one another's company — but also hoping to start a family.

This is where the rough waters kick up: Isabel conceives and appears to be months along in her pregnancy when one night, while a storm rages outside, she miscarries. The physical pain is searing; she is clearly terrified, unsure of what is happening within her body, and without anyone to turn to for help. The next day, they bury their child in a marked grave on the island. Isabel is inconsolable.

Not long after that, she becomes pregnant again. But this time around, she is wary of the precariousness of her condition and terrified of repeating the ordeal — which, inevitably, she does. The second miscarriage is even more painful. Not only because of the scene itself, which portrays a hopeful Isabel sitting at a piano — in one moment joyful and the next doubled over in pain, blood seeping through the back of her skirt — but because it so keenly reveals the hysteric emotionality behind what it means to lose your dream coupled with the death of hope. Twice.
Photo: Courtesy of DreamWorks.
What Vikander telegraphs in this scene is more than just the physical elements of how the early stage of miscarriage proceeds. Her performance also showcases a distinctly female form of failure at something that, as women, we are told for an entire lifetime is our destiny: the ability to bear a child.

For women who want to become mothers, the inability to bring a pregnancy to term — to literally deliver on a biological promise — is perhaps one of the more devastating experiences they will ever endure.

Still, despite the fact that up to one-fifth of all pregnancies result in miscarriage, it is something that does not receive a commensurate amount of discussion. The heartbreak of miscarriage is something that often gets minimized and belittled; we are ill-practiced with the language required to console someone who has gone through it, once, twice, or many times. For that reason, we often avoid talking about it altogether. But not talking about contributes to the feelings of isolation — of failure — that accompany losing a wanted pregnancy. And so the downward spiral spins.

The movie keenly reveals the hysterical emotionality of what it means to lose your dream, and the death of hope. Twice.

I have never experienced this female-specific rite of passage myself but I have been on the other side of plenty of conversations with women — some who lost their pregnancies recently, others who lost them long ago, but still feel empty. Often, these friends have said they felt minimized. A colleague once told me she felt like her husband was living on Earth and she was living on planet "My Baby Died" — and there were no telephone lines between those two worlds.

And so here is my theory and one reason to go see The Light Between Oceans: If we talk about miscarriage more, it will not hurt any less when it happens, but it might make the aftermath a little easier to bear. It might make women feel less alone. It might be like erecting a lighthouse out in the ocean, so that people know there is hope when they are out in a storm.

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