Light of My Life opens with a father and daughter camping in the woods as he tells her a bedtime story that is peripherally connected to the story of Noah’s Ark. The story is one of rescue and protection of a young female fox as the world if facing destruction. The scene is shot in a closeup that visually establishes an intimacy between the two. In an abstract way, that is the summary of the situation the father faces in this film.
Dad (Casey Affleck, who also wrote and directed) and eleven year-old Rag (Anna Pniowski) have been together for the past ten years—living in a tent or squatting in vacant houses. They forage and occasionally go into town to get supplies. At this point it seems a bit like last year’s Leave No Trace. But whenever they come across others, Dad always introduces Rag as his son. That is the first hint that things may be a bit off in this world.
In time, we learn that there has been a global pandemic that has wiped out nearly the entire female population, including Rag’s mother (Elisabeth Moss in flashbacks). That has created a world in which women are at high risk of abuse. The dystopia plays out in the background, even as the film is set in idyllic nature. The evil that is in the world has not destroyed the beauty, as we often see in dystopian stories, rather it coexists with the goodness of nature. This story is very much a story of good and evil, but without really focusing on the evil, as many horror films would do. Rather the focus is on Dad’s love for Rag that leads him to do everything he can to protect her.
It should be noted that the first half of the film is fairly leisurely in developing the conflicts of the story. First and foremost, it wants us to see the tremendous bond between Rag and Dad. (The chemistry between Affleck and Pniowski creates a wonderful sense of intimacy.) Much of the film is the two of them talking, sometimes about the mundane things of their life, but often venturing in to more serious areas, such as the difference between morality and ethics, or what it will take to get the world back into balance. Both of those discussions provide insights into events in the story. They help us understand the kind of person Dad is as he faces difficult situations.
Dad is not the only good person we encounter in this film. Towards the end, as they come to a house that used to belong to Dad’s grandparents, one of the men now living there can tell that Rag is a girl, but confronts Dad to make sure he really is her father, and not someone exploiting her. He also shares some wisdom about the situation to remind Dad that there are some places where women might be safe. In time he will have to find such a place for her. But that will require giving up his role as protector. A part of the wisdom shared with him is to have trust in God to make a plan.
It is refreshing to have a story in which goodness is developed throughout while the evil aspects stay mostly in the background. We know that people are capable of doing evil. Light of My Life spends its time not so much in the battle to defeat evil by confronting it, but by building the bond of love that provides the power that will lead the characters to overcome that evil.
Photos courtesy of Elevation Pictures