The Impossible - Tear-Jerking Portrayal of a Devastating Event

                             "The Impossible" (2012) from the impressive Spanish director J.A. Bayona ("The Orphanage") is a disaster movie. Not the Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay kind disaster movie, but a 'based-on-true-life' disaster movie set against the backdrop of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated large portions of coastal southern Asia and took more than 200,000 lives. Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" touched slightly upon this subject, but this is the first major feature film to center on the events of December 26, 2004. If you can bear sentiment, the movie serves as intense reminder of how frail, fleeting and precious life is.

                                The narrative structure of "The Impossible" is fairly straightforward, which first introduces the principal characters -- Henry (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), and Thomas (Samuel Joslin). They are staying at a fancy resort in Thailand, a place close to the sea. When a tsunami with 98-foot-high waves hits shore all the guests, employees, and residents of the area are totally unprepared. Lucas, the elder son is separated from his family but miraculously makes contact with his mother, Maria who has been badly injured. 

                             After an physically and emotionally difficult journey they arrive at a crowded hospital where doctors worry about Maria's badly damaged leg. Maria insists him not to drain all his energy on her but to see what he can do to help other survivors. Meanwhile, Henry and the two younger boys remain at the ruins of the resort until rescue workers arrive to take them out. Henry is set to search for Maria and Lucas, while he sends the two younger ones to a shelter. 

                          "The Impossible" is a Spanish-made production but it has the design and work of Hollywood’s jauntiest studios. With a budget of $45 million and perfect as well as limited use of CGI, director Bayona  accomplishes astonishing verisimilitude in recreating the tsunami and its immediate aftermath. Apart from the well shot disaster scenes, Bayona also sets out to explore the psycho-social dynamics of the family members. Separated and seriously injured, this is not just a remarkable reuniting story, it also reaffirms their unshakable faith in each other, as well as in the thousands of strangers who were also victims of the catastrophe. Bayona has somehow won a noteworthy challenge, namely, in creating and then maintaining the right tone in balancing real-life, suspenseful horror with the triumph of the human spirit, without exploiting the natural disaster and without excessively glorifying the courage and sacrifice of the family members in facing the disaster.

                         Script writer Sergio Sanchez's decision to follow mother and son on their long nightmare trek, leaving the question of Henry and the two younger boys up in the air, rather than bouncing back and forth between the narratives looks very efficient and intriguing. As in all true-life stories the script has also taken a few liberties. Particularly the transformation of real people into a blondly British clan. But the changes have given more committed actors like Watts, McGregor and Tom Holland.The finale, which transpires in a hospital, overuses coincidence. The aim is to create enough suspense and tension, whereas the effect is more likely used in many many movies. A lot of viewers might complain that this movie is only about holidaying Westerners. If you have already seen the trailer, it is very clear that it was about one family - one out of thousands and how they found each other again, against all odds. On that devastating day, no one spoke or thought about race or color, but only how each person could help each other to get through it all together. So, it's best not to view this movie from the race angle. 

                        The technical skills of "The Impossible" is indisputable. This is the kind of movie where you notice things like cinematography, sound editing and limited injection of CGI. Naomi Watts is the right choice for Maria -- a character which requires her to display a steely coolness of the physician and the frayed urgency of a mother fighting to save her children. McGregor invests himself as Henry with uncommon conviction. A  heart-rending phone call to home may be McGregor’s finest piece of acting ever. Tom Holland's Lucas makes us feel his terror and anxiety and lament the terrible burden placed on him as he is thrust into adulthood. He powerfully shoulders the film, while Joslin and Pendergast prove honestly convincing in their smaller roles. 

                     With an stellar cast and excellent visuals, "The Impossible" puts a lump in one's throat. It is respectful of the enormity of the tragedy and  is something deeper than just another survival story. 


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