“Would you like me to tell you a story?”
Just because Light of My Life rarely goes out of its way to convey a broad, sweeping story doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t accomplish plenty either. It’s an intriguing, contemplative, intentionally vague movie where plot descriptors play second fiddle to the quietly intense character development forged between its two co-leads, and the careful ambiguity of it all gives us something to reason with and to reckon with depending on how we digest the picture. Light of My Life isn’t the kind of film that sets your heart on fire, nor does it singe you with direct heat. It’s a cold, sobering journey of a story, as well as a promising look at Casey Affleck’s potential career path both in front of and behind the camera from here on out.
Little to nothing is made immediately known in the opening moments of Light of My Life. We don’t know when or where it takes place, although it hues closer to present day than it does to some kind of post apocalyptic future. We do know that Casey Affleck plays Dad – his birth name is never spoken from what I can recall – to his young daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky). She’s made to look boyish with short hair, over-sized clothes, and a near constant downward gaze. After what seems to have been a pandemic that wiped out most of the world’s female population, Rag – whose name sounds insulting until it’s explained – is safer hiding who she is as the two vagrants wander from place to place, looking for shelter and food in a word that’s fallen apart.
There’s something missing from this picture. It has a substantial and trusting dynamic between Affleck and the talented newcomer Pniowsky, who matches him beat for beat scene after scene. The visuals are oftentimes static without feeling stunted, and it’s clear as day that Affleck’s time spent collaborating with filmmaker David Lowery has heavily influenced his approach and aesthetic behind the camera. So many creative elements emulate the decisions Lowery might make, like a wide shot where most others would force a close-up, or brutal fight sequences that refuse to acquiesce to the rapid cutting of similar moments in more big-budget movies. Light of My Life is technically sound and displays Affleck’s great eye for visual storytelling, but I still can’t help but believe that a story world with more finesse and less vagary might have elevated this one into the discussion of year best territory.
Affleck’s film might seem underwhelming at first glance, like a lazy hybrid of The Road and Children of Men, but the movie manages to comment on a lot while staying true to form and saying relatively little; with less women in the world, it’s no surprise that men manage to accelerate and clear a path to ruin. You almost get the sense that Affleck is trying to use the film as a means of atonement or reconciliation for the sexual assault accusations made against him in the past, trying to separate himself from the predatory nature of the men in this film who are on the hunt for Rag. As Dad, he wills himself to live against the third act’s nameless accosters (if the script has a weak spot, it’s in the antagonistic motivations of men we never come to know in a story without any real rules), and together they continue to power through adversity by continuing to depend on each other. Light of My Life might be too thin in terms of world building, yet it’s so full of turbulent and raw emotions radiating from its two powerful lead performances that you can’t help but to latch on and become completely absorbed. This is a film about feeling protected when times turn dark, and how a loved one’s face can be the night-light offerinng reassurance and safety from a nightmare world with eyes closed or wide open. Their love lights up the darkness.
“All I know is you.”
Rating: 4 out of 5