The Wake of Light

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Wake of Light Movie Poster Image
Soulful journey is visual poetry, but story lacks depth.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 80 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes of family and responsibility. 

Positive Role Models

Mary is steadfast and dedicated to taking care of her father's needs while also providing extra income for the family using her own resources. Cole is talkative, helpful, self-reliant, and respectful. Two supporting characters have disabilities but are played by nondisabled actors. Mary's father experiences the long-term effects of a stroke, and an adult neighbor has an unspecified developmental delay, which is conveyed by him acting in a childlike way.


Quick kiss. Some romance simmers under the surface. 


A cocktail mixer's website is prominently displayed.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cocktail mixer shown.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Wake of Light is a beautifully flimed but slight drama about balancing purpose and responsibility. The film builds as a romance, but after a kiss is spurned, friendship may be the best definition of the central relationship. It has subtle faith-based elements: It opens with an elusive Bible quote, and viewers hear someone's inner thoughts directed at the sun. Main characters Mary (Rome Brooks) and Cole (Matt Bush) are respectful and wholesome, and there's no strong language, violence, sex, or substance use. However, there's also nothing here to keep kids engaged -- the characters' struggles with adult responsibilities won't be especially relatable. Representation includes supporting characters with physical and developmental disabilities, although nondisabled actors play the roles.

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What's the story?

In THE WAKE OF LIGHT, Mary's (Rome Brooks) life is a routine of caring for her ailing father and selling bottled water to tourists in her quaint town. When she meets a stranger named Cole (Matt Bush) who's making a stop on his cross-country trip, it leads to her own journey of self-discovery.

Is it any good?

Only the most artistic of kids will appreciate this film that doesn't fit neatly into any one genre, given that its strength is in its aesthetics. Almost completely shot using natural light, it's a contemplative drama that's beautifully filmed but light on story. In fact, there's not much more to it than summary above. An extraordinary number of the movie's shots are of characters staring at stuff and piano-music montages of people walking around in the golden grass or farmland. At times, it almost feels like The Wake of Light is a music video for pianist Josh Kramer. And, while it's admirable that writer/director Renji Philip wrote two substantial supporting roles for characters with disabilities, non-disabled actor Tyler Steelman's energetic, childlike portrayal of a young man (maybe a teen? maybe older?) with an unspecified developmental disability may leave some viewers cringeing.

Mary and Cole are on opposite paths. She dreams of exploring America but is stuck in her small town because she has to care for her father. Conversely, he's on a cross-country trip to pay homage to his late father -- and, we learn, is dodging an obligation. They spend a flirtatious couple of days together. But those days make an impact on the future of their lives. It's something many adults can relate to: A person enters your life for a short time, even if you're not looking at developing a future with them, they can play a key role in developing your future. This drama takes viewers on a journey, but you've got to have some life experience to appreciate it. And even then, you might not. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Wake of Light demonstrates the emotional consequences for a child who must become the caretaker for a parent. 

  • Do you consider this a faith-based film? Why, or why not? Also, the filmmaker describes it as a romance. Would you put it in that genre?

  • Discuss how The Wake of Light portrays characters with physical and developmental disabilities. Do you think the portrayals were realistic? Is it OK that they were played by non-disabled actors? Why are diversity and representation in the media important?

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