There have been many natural disasters in the past years and with the immediacy of the media we get repetitious images of damage, horrific loss of life and properties. While our hearts grieve for losses it’s rare we get to follow one family through such an experience from beginning to end. That’s what happens in The Impossible, a film about the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that appears to be yet another rip-off of a natural disaster but becomes so much more as it recounts the true story of a family who experienced this horrific event.
When Henry (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three sons head to Thailand to celebrate Christmas they’re prepared for an exciting time at a resort on the beach. Awaking up to Christmas presents is fun, and the beautiful floating luminaria at the welcome party that night is awesome. However, the boys are anxious to enjoy some rigorous activities. The very next day as Henry, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) head to the pools only minutes later a load roar is heard. Outside their room Maria watches as a strong wind picks up and suddenly a massive tsunami that hits as quick as a tornado, turns the resort and miles beyond into massive wreckage with only few survivors fighting for their lives.
Sitting in a movie theatre no one can be prepared for the scenes that immediately follow the huge waves hitting land. The transformation from sitting and watching a movie to actually feeling as if one is a part of that chaos is due to the filmmakers’ immense concern and skills. Director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) takes the brilliant screenplay bySergio G. Sánchez (The Orphanage) – from story by Maria Belon – and creates a nearly two hour on-the-edge-of-your-seat drama. Adding more emotional realism to the film is a wonderful music score by Fernando Velazquez, and the unbelievable cinematography of Oscar Faura (Biutiful).
But it’s the six special effects companies, special effects masters Félix Bergés and Pau Costa and production designer Eugenio Caballerothat create something akin to a horror movie. Maria is the first of the family seen tumbling above and below the water as she’s hit full force with debris and trying to find something to cling to.
Maria is almost unbelieving when she sees Lucas in the same water nearby. They must struggle to get to each other but there’s many a tear shed by moviegoers when they cling to each other and Lucas sobs in his mother’s arms. Only days before he was the one who impressed his mother during the airplane turbulence as the brave one.
Lucas must become the fearless one once again as he discovers his mother is severely hurt in many places. When they are finally rescued and put on a truck to head inland, Maria can only scan the wreckage-filled waters and wonder if her boys and husband are alive. Maria and Lucas end up at a hospital with her barley hanging on to life.
The cast for this film – although not Hispanic as the real family – do an incredible job. Every moment Watts is on screen she epitomizes the angst of a mother who must encourage her son to help others even knowing she is near death, and the agony of not knowing if her other two sons and husband are alive. Her pain is so clear we can feel it.
Tom Holland, who did a voice in The Secret World of Arrietty, makes an impressive debut in his first feature film. As the 12-year Lucas he carries the worries of an adult on his shoulder about the existence of his parents and what happened to his little brothers. So consumed by fear and isolation in a foreign country, at one time when his mother talks about Thomas and Simon he screams at her that they are dead. Young Holland has a long film career ahead of him.
Experiencing the rest of the film is better seen that hearing about. McGregor is excellent as an attentive father, and Joslin and Pendergast – make incredible film debuts as the two younger boys. One scene alone will break hearts. Among all the new films currently in theaters The Impossible is the most profound. It’s a heartfelt film that hits viewers hard but leaves unforgettable images in our minds and on our hearts.
Photo Credit: Jose Haro/ Summit Entertainment, LLC.