KnigaWorm Film Review: The Impossible (2012)

The things I do for my friends…I was putting the finishing touches on my review of “Gone girl” (the movie, not the book) when a friend of mine called me up. After a quick catch-up session, the conversation turned to how bloody scary life is right now. And no, not cause of Covid, we’re kind of used to it by now. But because on top of the global pandemic we are being tested by Mother Nature herself. Of course, it’s our own fault and all that, but still… several volcanoes that lay dormant for centuries starting to erupt at once is an unsettling occurrence. And then my friend, knowing how much I love movies, said, “Hey, let’s watch a disaster movie together!” – “Um.. I have concerns. First off, we are in different cities right now. Second, why would we want to do that? Isn’t our life disastrous enough?” – “But if we see the worst case scenario, maybe our current situation won’t seem so bad in comparison?” I agreed that she had a point, yet a volcano movie was not something that I was in the mood for… And then she remembered “The Impossible”.

The movie that I watched soon after it came out, couldn’t get it out of my head for days, shuddered at the thought of it, and promised myself I’d never watch it again. That “The Impossible”.” Oh, come on, it can’t be that bad! It’s just a movie,” my friend continued, stating that she couldn’t watch it without me, yet couldn’t NOT watch it… What choice did I have?

“The Impossible” (2012), directed by J.A. Bayona, is based on a true story of a Spanish family Belon (Maria Belon has a writing credit), who survived the horrific 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Filmed partly on location in the actual resort that was rebuilt after the event, “The Impossible” works like an eye-witness account of a natural disaster, a survival story, a family drama, and a love story of a mother and son who, while fighting for each other, fought for their own lives.

It’s difficult to put into words the effect that this film had on me. This time around (my second) I knew what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional tsunami (not a pun, sorry) that would hit me nonetheless. “The Impossible” uses green screen, CGI, and practical effects to immerse the actors (and the audience) into the all-consuming fury of Mother Nature. It’s amazing how helpless we are in the face of a natural disaster. Just like it’s amazing to realize how petty our worries and troubles are in the grand scheme of things. In the first peaceful minutes of the film, Henry is worried about possibly getting fired from his job – a problem that loses all meaning seconds later, when the actual problem crashes into Henry and his entire family.

“The Impossible” doesn’t waste time getting to the main event – but you kind of wish that it did. I don’t think any viewer is prepared for the crashing waves that flood the Thailand – and the screen. Our titular family is literally torn apart, with Maria and Lucas, the eldest son, being swept up and carried into the mainland, while the fate of Henry and the two younger boys is unclear for the time being. It becomes apparent that mother and son are the main heroes of the story, the true survivors.

Naomi Watts, once again, gives her all in an incredible performance. She perfectly captures Maria’s devastation, despair and solemn resolve to survive for her son, no matter what it takes. When we first see Maria after the tsunami hits the resort, she is clinging to a tree, screaming in shock and pain, but at least she’s relatively safe. But when a few seconds later Lucas wizzes by in a wave of ocean water and debris, Maria abandons caution and throws herself back into the merciless water, with just one goal – to save her son. This desperate act is the cause of most of her horrific injuries, and we painfully understand her choice, which is not really a choice for a mother. Her life means nothing if her son is in danger.

Tom Holland, our resident Spider-man, plays the role of Lucas. It’s his film debut, not that you could tell from the convincing performance that he gives. Lucas goes through a roller-coaster of emotions and ages 10 years in the span of three days. He goes from being a scared little boy, who can selfishly leave a crying child behind to save himself, to being the head of the family, taking care of his mother.

Ewan McGregor rounds out the cast as Henry, who doesn’t get as much screen time, but makes an impression as a father trying to balance taking care of his little sons and looking for his wife and older child. McGregor’s role is less meaty than Watts’ or Holland’s but Ewan is the actor of undeniable talent, so he makes an impression despite the lack of screen time.

All in all, “The Impossible” truly deserves its name. For it’s Impossible to survive a crashing tsunami, it’s Impossible to find your family in a sea of lost and broken people… and it’s Impossible not to be profoundly affected by this film.

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