Light of My Life (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Father and daughter in apocalyptic world

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“Light of My Life”, the first feature movie directed by Casey Affleck, is a simple but effective apocalyptic drama driven by the strong relationship between its two main characters. While it does not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, the movie is fairly engaging enough in terms of mood, storytelling, and performance, and we come to observe its two main character’s hard and difficult journey with care and interest.

The movie opens with its two main characters spending another night together somewhere in a remote forest. Inside their small tent, a man played by Affleck tells his daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky) a bedtime story inspired by Noah’s Ark, and we cannot help but a bit amused as she frequently sees through whatever her father tries to concoct for entertaining her, though she eventually comes to become more involved in her father’s story.

As they continue their journey on the next day, we gradually gather the details of their gloomy apocalyptic world. Several years ago, the female population of the human society was almost wiped out by a sudden worldwide epidemic, and the human society has been slowly declining since that epidemic without much possibility of reproduction. While Rag’s mother, played by Elizabeth Moss in several brief flashback scenes, died not long after she gave birth to her daughter, Rag fortunately happens to be immune to the disease, and her father has been trying a lot for protecting her for any possible danger. They avoid strangers as much as possible, and he always has her disguised as a boy whenever they need to go to a more populated area.

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Of course, things get less easy as Rag is about to enter her adolescence. While it becomes difficult to hide her gender from others, Rag has been pretty tired of disguising herself as a boy. When she and her father come across a seemingly abandoned house at one point, she is delighted to find a number of objects for girls in one of the rooms in the house, and she manages to persuade her father to allow themselves to stay in this house for a while.

However, there is still the constant danger of being exposed to others, and we accordingly get a calm but tense scene where he and Rag are suddenly approached by a group of strangers on one day. Becoming more concerned about his daughter’s safety, Rag’s father has no choice but to move to another remote region along with her as soon as possible, and there is a painful moment when he comes to commit a wrong deed to a young guy even though that guy shows him and his daughter the kindness of a stranger.

Although it lags from time to time, the movie keeps engaging us with its mood and details, and Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, shows here that he has learned much as collaborating with several notable flimmakers such as David Lowery. Thanks to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the movie is shrouded in the palpable apocalyptic atmosphere coupled with a grey sense of despair and desperation, and that aspect is further accentuated by the sparse score by Daniel Hart, who has worked with Lowery in several films including “A Ghost Story” (2017) and “The Old Man & the Gun” (2018).

When it eventually arrives at a certain spot where we are introduced to a few other figures in the story, the movie continues to focus on the relationship between Rag and her father, and that is the main reason why its rather contrived finale works to some degree. You may be disappointed if you expect a clean-cut ending, but the final shot of the movie is poignant as reminding us again of how strong the relationship between Rag and her father is, and we are touched more as observing what has been changed in their relationship in the end.

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I must point out that, due to his alleged sexual harassment during the production of his mockumentary film “I’m Still Here” (2010), it is often uncomfortable for me to watch Affleck playing a guy devoted to his daughter on the screen, but I also have to admit that he demonstrates here again that he is a subtle actor who can effortlessly convey his character’s emotions and thoughts without any exaggeration. During one particular scene later in the story, we can sense how much his character is reluctant to answer a question thrown at him, and his character’s eventual answer is delivered with considerable dramatic weight even though he does not seem to strive for anything.

In addition, Affleck lets his co-star Anna Pniowsky gradually shine beside him. Although her acting career is rather short, Pniowsky is simply marvelous as effectively complementing Affleck, and her commendable unadorned performance here in this film deserves to be compared with Thomasin McKenzie in “Leave No Trace” (2018), which incidentally also revolves around a strong but isolated father and daughter relationship.

Reminiscent of several other similar films including “Children of Men” (2006) and “The Road” (2009), “Light of My Life” is not that fresh to say the least, and it also requires considerable patience from you due to its slow narrative pacing, but it is still worthwhile to watch in my humble opinion. Yes, it is certainly not something to entertain you on Sunday afternoon, but you will probably be impressed by its several good things nonetheless.

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