Wow. That’s the first reaction that I had after watching J.A. Bayona’s riveting film, The Impossible. It’s the based-on-a-real-life story about a family ripped apart by the horrible 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that rocked countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand and India, leaving over an estimated 230,000 people dead. It was and is one of the most tragic and devastating natural disasters in recorded human history.
But this massive disaster story is not given Hollywood blockbuster treatment, a la Armageddon or Twister. Instead The Impossible is deeply personal and relatable, using the tsunami and its wake to tell a gripping tale of love, family, empathy and the human spirit.
Yes, this horrific catastrophe exposed a great deal of hope. In the midst of such tragedy, goodness shines brighter than ever before.
A family vacation like any other, Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play a married couple on vacation to Thailand for the Christmas holiday. In tow are there three boys, two of which are just pint-sized and the oldest, Lucas (newcomer Tom Holland), is not more than a teenager.
They stay at a luxurious ocean-side resort, but a room reservation mix-up puts them in a room facing the pool instead of the ocean. You could imagine the importance of this detail. They spend a typical Christmas morning ripping through presents and then they enjoy their time together lounging around the pool.
Without warning, without a sign, there is a gust of wind and some birds fly overhead. Then on the horizon, a massive tidal wave engulfs the landscape.
Amazingly violent and gruesome underwater visuals are matched with still, lifeless overhead shots to paint this nonsensical natural occurrence. In parts, we see young Lucas trying to reunite with his mother, then caring for her as several wounds have her teetering on the brink of death. Elsewhere, dad is desperately searching to bring his family back together.
The tragic events in the film alone are enough to impact each and every viewer. Could you imagine if this was your family? Even as horrible as other disasters are – a plane crash, a terror attack, a car accident – we can subvert our anger towards a “bad guy,” a faulty engine or a poorly maintained roadway. Here we ask: Why is this happening? Man, the world is a cold and uncaring place.
Until it isn’t. Throughout the film, small moments of heroism stand as symbols of the human struggle. When Lucas and his mom hear a small boy crying in the distance, Lucas wants to abandon the boy and head for safety…there is no telling if another wave is coming. But mom insists on helping the boy, “If it’s the very last thing we ever do.”
We get glimpses into the instant hospitals and care facilities erected to deal with the overflow of injuries and fatalities. How overwhelming an under-taking this must have been. Lucas does what he can to help other victims even while trying to save his own family.
I don’t mean to say that this movie is overly optimistic, but rather that it shows life as it is. One man won’t lend his cell phone, because his battery is low and he needs it for himself. Another man not only gives his cell phone, but tries to accompany another victim on his quest to find his missing son.
And such is life. Brilliant performances aside (and there are many – Watts, Holland and McGregor specifically), The Impossible is aptly named in that it portrays an unimaginable natural tragedy. But in its depiction of the humans affected by the tsunami, it shows the opposite – what is possible – when we come together to face the sudden and unknown horrors of life, that at any moment, can come crashing down on us all.
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 (check for show times).
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