Film Review – The Impossible
The South Asian tsunami is given a face that makes it as real as possible for those of us who can only imagine the destruction in The Impossible. Leaving aside the controversies this film has raised, including the changing of the family at its core from Spanish to British and the fact that Caucasians are used to show what happened to a predominately Asian population, this is an effective story of human spirit against adversity. By giving us characters based upon people who suffered but did not lose anyone, we can observe the pain, but never sink into it.
Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) are a normal married couple. They love each other and their three kids, Lucas (Tom Holland), twelve, Thomas (Samuel Joslin), seven, and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), five. They are all taking a vacation to Thailand for Christmas. They are the epitome of normal; Lucas is sarcastic and surly, Simon and Thomas become afraid and excited very easily. The parents worry about leaving the alarm off on their house and about money and work. The sense of their normal everyday worries and joys is clear, and it makes what we know is going to happen even more scary.
When the tsunami hits, it is truly frightening. The wave is one of the most realistic special effects of the year, showing the power of the tsunami as trees and buildings are pushed aside with little resistance. The fast-moving waters feel to scale and are never trying to be more “cinematic” than expected; it is dirty, quick, and horrifying. The landscape afterword is even more frightening, with the images of dirty water, death, and destruction all around, creating the feeling of being trapped in hell. The only moment that undermines this comes earlier, when the movie plays up the noise of the plane before the family lands in Thailand, as a precursor of things to come. It feels over the top and cheap, since you cannot go into this movie without already knowing what is coming.
After the wave hits, the family is separated, and for most of the time we are with Maria and Lucas, who were pushed out further by the wave. Through them, we get to see the full weight of the tsunami’s destruction. They fight in the moving water to stay afloat, try to avoid getting crushed, try to get to any semblance of civilization. Maria sustains the greatest injuries, and we see her fight through the pain for herself, but even more for Lucas, believing she may be all he has left. We see Lucas deal with his mother being in such pain, and how he tries to cope. He tries to be helpful with other survivors, since it makes his mother happy, but worries and tries to be as adult as he can. He gets angry and desperate for his mother and him to make it. He is ever a child wanting to make things okay, and not certain how to do that.
Henry and the other children, while still important, didn’t suffer as much in the initial storm, and represent those trying to find out what happened to lost loved ones. Through Henry’s searching, we see the struggle it takes to find anyone after so much chaos. Then, in other people, we see levels of selfishness that make you sick—yet this is the minority viewpoint. For most of the film, we see the best of human nature: perseverance and the desire of those desperate to find loved ones and help strangers find their loved ones, as well. They all share in the same level of the pain of not knowing.
The best part of the film is the restraint used in showing off emotional moments. There are convenient moments that seem to make some of the reveals feel forced, but they do not take away from the genuine emotion present. Through the time Lucas and Maria spend together, you can feel the bond built beyond mother and son, in how they survive and keep each other going even if they make poor decisions at times. All their decisions come from a deep desire not to lose each other. That is what makes this such an effective film. We see so much humanity in how people come together when the worst things happen. Director Juan Antonio Bayona has captured a moment in time that most people can never imagine, and given it a face. These are brave people, and as with so many others who faced this disaster, we may never know what it was like for them. But we are a little bit closer to understanding, because of this film.
Final Grade: B+