The Impossible (2012)

The Impossible (2012)
Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.

lucas

I suppose it would be easy to think of The Impossible as a disaster picture. I haven’t seen very many disaster pictures, so I don’t know what characterizes them. However, although I was moved by the plight of the victims in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as represented in this movie, it was neither their despair nor eventual happiness that moved me to tears: it was the way some people, at the depths of human tragedy, still manage to reach out to help others, and that’s what I think this film is really about.

If there is ever a time when human decency could be waived without blame, it is in times of horrible despair; yet there are characters in The Impossible, including members of the central character’s immediate family, who put personal peril on the back burner in order to help others stuck in the same peril. How does this happen? And is there any way to know whether I, in similar circumstances, would have the strength of character and the conviction of principal to do the same? I think it is a huge failure on my part not to know the answer, and if The Impossible succeeds in nothing else, it succeeds in reminding us that there are people in this world who are good, and that the only thing keeping any of us from that same virtue is choice.

maria and lucas

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as Maria and Henry Bennett, a couple visiting Thailand with their three young sons. When the tsunami hits the resort they’re staying in, Henry has his two younger boys in his arms. Maria is crouched against a glass window, retrieving a page from the book she’s been reading. Lucas, the eldest son, is standing alone near the pool. They are swept up in an unbelievably horrifying surge of seawater and debris, batted helplessly about by trees, cars, lumber, and the ceaseless ocean. In what is an emotionally draining sequence, the film-makers offer a jaw-dropping look at what it might be like to be trapped beneath water in such an awful situation, with sights and sounds ghastly and amazing to behold.

As awful as the wave itself is, the aftermath is worse. The parents, now separated and unaware of whether the others are alive or dead begin their mission first to survive and then to locate their loved ones. We first see things from Maria’s perspective; then we see them from Henry’s. And as things seem to get worse and worse, we are given glimpses of incredible humanity, from villagers determined to bring those who need aid to the nearest hospital, from others who gather the dead for identification, and from the victims themselves as they offer what little strength they have to each other in whatever way they can, “even if it’s the last thing we do.”

henryLucas, who can be no more than eleven or twelve, becomes the strength of the family, a horrible burden no little boy should have to shoulder, yet he is up to the task, and Tom Holland is excellent in this role, visibly fighting back panic in order to offer his mother peace, and then fighting back his worry for her in order to offer peace to others. I seldom am impressed by young boys as actors, but Holland really impresses in what cannot have been an easy job.

The film makes a few missteps, especially in its setup. We are all aware, as the first frames flash before us, that we are about to see something horrible, but the film-makers find it necessary to give us a completely unnecessary sense of foreboding even before the Bennett family arrives in Thailand. Additionally, there is kind of miraculous finish that I suspect is true to events as they happened. Still, the fact that they may be true does not mean they are believable as presented: I wondered if something could have been done not to alter the facts, but to offer them in a way that might explain how it might have happened.

I know what I sound like. I’m asking for an explanation of something that might have been a miracle, and what is art if it doesn’t give us a chance at witnessing and believing in a miracle? People fall in love, dogs find their way across the country, young Jedis bring down empires, and families are brought together in movies all the time. Yet I think that if I were the one to have experienced the miracle, I’d at least try to make sense of it, even if after the attempt I conceded that there is no explanation. As the film is, I have a few theories anyway; I guess I’d have liked seeing what the storytellers thought too.

On the strength of performances by Watts, McGregor, and Holland in combination with some amazing technical accomplishments in depicting the horrible tsunami, I’m giving this one a pretty strong recommendation with the prayer that none of us should ever find ourselves in similar circumstances, but with the added prayer that if we do, we’ll have the strength of character to offer a hand to anyone who might need it.

8/10
82/100

1 Response to “The Impossible (2012)”


  1. Arlyn

    Arlyn

    The Impossible

    And is there any way to know whether I, in similar circumstances, would have the strength of character and the conviction of principal to do the same? I think it is a huge failure on my part not to know the answer…

    Hmmm, from what I know of you, I don’t doubt you’d lend a hand if in circumstances of peril and reach out to help others. Am I wrong here?

    In what is an emotionally draining sequence, the film-makers offer a jaw-dropping look at what it might be like to be trapped beneath water in such an awful situation, with sights and sounds ghastly and amazing to behold.

    When I saw this at the Landmark movie theater, they had to stop the movie because a woman had fainted in the upper balcony. No one complained and we were given time to go to the restroom. I’m not sure it had to do with the sounds or sights but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

    The performances by McGregor and Watts were strong as usual and I, too, was taken by the oldest son played by Tom Holland.

    Additionally, there is kind of miraculous finish that I suspect is true to events as they happened. Still, the fact that they may be true does not mean they are believable as presented…

    I don’t know how this could have been done differently but I was disappointed in the finish as well.

    65/100

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