“The Impossible” is based on the true story of one family’s experience during the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.
It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Over 230,000 people lost their lives.
This film will place you squarely in the center of that event.
“The Impossible” briefly but successfully establishes the loving, happy family on vacation by showing a bit of their flight in to Thailand and their arrival at the luxurious ocean-side resort they’re staying at. A husband (Ewan McGregor), wife (Naomi Watts) and three boys (the eldest played by Tom Holland) are on a vacation for Christmas. They spend a joyful Christmas Day opening presents and playing, and that night they enjoy a beautiful beachside celebration, releasing candle-kites into the night sky.
Their idyllic peace is not long-lived, however. The very next day, while the family is poolside, the tsunami strikes.
The actual tsunami scene is as terrifying and realistic a disaster re-creation as you could imagine. The family has a few seconds to see the massive wall of water coming at them before it smashes through everything in sight and washes some of them miles inland. As the wave hits, the family is separated and the story focuses in on the eldest son and the mother, who are swept along not far apart from each other. Aside from the very real danger of drowning, or being washed out to sea, the two risk being slammed into objects or protrusions and being fatally gouged or knocked unconscious. A second wave tosses them about. During it all, they frantically try to stay together, each of them giving up the possibility of safety alone at some point, in order to pursue the other, still in danger.
Back at the resort, unbeknownst to them, the husband and other two boys have also survived. Once the immediate danger has passed, the story shifts back to them, and to his efforts to find his wife and eldest son. He’s left with nothing, and has no idea where they might be, but he doggedly refuses to give up hope.
Aside from the personal struggle of this individual family, this movie imparts a feeling of the scope of the tragedy. Obviously, the real event was of such a massive scale that no film could adequately impart it, but “The Impossible” makes a valiant effort. Wreckage and desolation stretch as far as the eye can see. The hospitals are teeming with people and stretched beyond their resources. Every time one of the family members mentions they’re searching for a loved one, multiple people plead with them to be on the look-out for those that they’ve lost as well. Humanity is reduced to the basics. Life becomes about simply surviving and finding the people you love.
“The Impossible” is one of the most emotionally draining films that I can recall. Most “tear-jerkers” (not to call “The Impossible” a tear-jerker, mind you) will set you up for one or two big moments of sorrow and then try to hit you with the big cry. “The Impossible” exists in a continuous zone of shock and fear, with sudden bursts of sorrow and equally sudden bursts of great, joyous elation and/or relief. You’ll feel the family’s pain as they get bettered by the event, and then the fear that they experience afterwards not knowing if everyone survived (or will still survive). When you’re not experiencing their plight, the film is showing the scope of the event, and you’re witnessing the plight of others. There are easily 30-40 moments here that could justifiably cause people to weep, and the audience I watched the film with was indeed sniffling throughout.
Watts and McGregor both were astonishing. McGregor’s character is doing his damndest to be resolute and courageous, but he’s faced with insurmountable odds and extremely difficult decisions. It’s too much for him at points, and he occasionally loses it. Watts takes the worst of the damage from the wave, and while she starts out a protective, driven mother… her strength fades along the course of the movie and her battle for life continues once she survives the water. Her performance is utterly genuine, you can feel her fear and love for her child, and then feel for her as her strength slowly slips away. Together, the two of them perfectly communicate the emotional experience that one might undergo in such a traumatic event.
“The Impossible” is one of the most powerful, moving, intense films of the year. It wowed me with its horrifying special effects, stunned me with its scope, and had me on the verge of tears from beginning to end. I highly recommend that you see it in theatres to get the maximum impact, and I’d also recommend seeing it with family. You will undeniably feel lucky to have them safe and sound with you after viewing this incredible film.