If you can make it past Light of My Life‘s long opening in which Casey Affleck, its writer, director, and star, tells an extended story to his daughter, there’s a film here that works. As a writer, Affleck is adroit, if routine; as a director, he stays lean, with topline cinematography and editing help; and as a star, he remains compelling. It’s in considering him as a man, a man making an earnest movie about being a father in a world without women, that we can’t help but roll our eyes.
Obviously, the daughter, Rag (Anna Pniowsky), stands out. She’s still only a pre-teen, but as the film makes clear, it’s getting harder for dad to keep her safe. In the world of Light of My Life, most of Earth’s women—including Rag’s mother (Elisabeth Moss in another thankless role)—have perished via plague. There’s still society, but it’s loose and shifty; not quite The Road, but getting there. Rag and her dad stay on the move, with only their meagre supplies, survival skills, and a verve for storytelling to keep them going. There are complications, of course, and a growing rebellious streak that has Affleck’s dad on edge; but what’s to be done? The threats come from the places we expect, the scenes of relief are thin, and we know the world will not be righted by the end. In all this, the film elides its true horror by dint of Pnioswky’s performance and the steady metronome of Affleck on-screen. It’s also possible to chuckle as Casey, much like brother Ben, never misses an opportunity for directorial self-regard—with, admittedly, a much higher dose of self-flagellation.
Therein lies the more serious disconnect though: what was Affleck’s motivation for making Light of My Life? Is he looking to apply the lessons he’s learned from his past real-life transgressions? Is this an artistic apology, an admission that he “gets” it now? Maybe this is unfair to ask; maybe it’s altogether beside the point. Affleck has made a quality film, one we should be able to appreciate on its own merits. And yet, there go my eyes again, up to the lights.