Light of My Life confidently conjures the common dystopian traits of emotional interdependence and high-stakes responsibility to make Casey Affleck’s second directing stint a success. Whilst the film fails to touch the soul like some of the genre’s strongest films, Affleck brings out the very best in his well-assembled team. His subject is a father-daughter relationship, and their only aspiration is to survive in a world where a plague has wiped out almost all women.
As a single parent, Affleck was inspired by his experiences to write Light of My Life. In a sweet and seemingly ordinary opening, Affleck’s character, Dad, tells his preteen daughter, Rag (Anna Pniowsky), a bedtime story. Rag rarely finds moments of joy after this. The ordinary must quickly fall away. Dad must pretend Rag is his son because revealing that she is a girl in a woman-less world would raise dangerous attention.
The pair encounter only glimmers of humanity in this harsh era, but their bond never falters. Affleck and Pniowsky give impeccable performances, without which the film could not function. The pair could truly be family and we’d be none the wiser, especially in a later scene where Dad deems it essential to tell Rag about sex, puberty and racism.
Filling the maternal void is something Dad struggles without throughout the film. In brief flashback scenes we see Rag’s mother around the time of her birth, just before the fatal epidemic. Despite having less than five minutes onscreen, casting a woman of Elisabeth Moss’ stature was important for the character to make a strong impression.
Clearly director and producer Affleck was interested in surrounding himself with the best talent. Adam Arkapaw, who shot the only good season of True Detective, worked as the cinematographer to capture Affleck’s vision. The camera is often motionless, as if to frame scenes between Dad and Rag as a dynamic photograph. The uninterrupted takes portray Affleck as a storyteller, as well as Dad’s insatiable dedication to ensuring his daughter’s safety. But more energetic camerawork would have been welcomed during the dramatic climax. The plot was ready to burst from the tension, and yet the stubborn camera decided to stay maintain its composure.
Leaving a strong impression is ultimately what Light of My Life fails to do. It has the warmth of Granik’s Leave No Trace and the tense urgency, of Cuarón’s Children of Men. Despite such strong attributes and adept direction, Light of My Life is likely to be drowned out by the giants of the genre. It’s an interesting question to ask what would compel a man to create a world in which women no longer exist, especially for someone with Affleck’s past. But this film does prove the Oscar-winning actor’s undeniable talent on both sides of the camera.