On December 26, 2004 an earthquake in the Indian Ocean spawned a tsunami that struck South Asian coastlines with an incredible wall of water, leaving over 200,000 people dead in its wake. Around the world, people watched the news reports with a sense of dismay. But for those at the center of the disaster, the horrors only grew after the water receded. The Impossible, directed by Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona and based on the real life experiences of Maria Belon and her husband Henry. It tells the story of just one of the thousands of families swept up in the events of that day.
Henry and Maria (played by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) arrive at an idyllic shoreline resort in Thailand for a relaxing Christmas vacation with their boys Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Then, without warning, a tidal wave of churning, dirty, debris-filled water crashes down on the resort battering the guests and employees as it plunges over them. When she finally fights her way to the surface, Maria is cut, bruised and partially unclothed from the force of the water. In the distance she catches sight of Lucas rushing along in the current. Finally, the two of them latch on to the trunk of a floating tree. But the rest of their family is nowhere to be seen.
Rescued by locals, the pair eventually ends up in an overrun hospital where Maria’s injuries worsen each day as the staff deals with an ever-growing patient load.
Meanwhile, a shoeless and blood-covered Henry, still in a state of shock, leaves Thomas and Simon in the care of a stranger (Nicola Harrison) and begins searching for his missing wife and son. But in the confusion, the two younger boys are whisked away with a truckload of orphans.
Because many of the extras in the film are actual survivors of the tsunami, there is a sense of authenticity to the emotional shock that follows the watery event. Yet the film focuses almost exclusively on “white” victims with little acknowledgement of the thousands of locals who lost not only their lives or loved ones, but their homes and livelihoods as well. (Even Henry and Maria’s family is depicted as being British although the actual family is from Spain.) The film also understates the loss of life. Rows and rows of body bags lined up on an airport tarmac and a few injured individuals lying on the side of the road don’t come close to representing the magnitude of human lives lost in this natural disaster. Although filmmakers censored the portrayal of death in this film, they didn’t edit out several scenes of female frontal nudity. While some of the scenes make sense in the context of the story, others don’t.
Still in the middle of unbelievable devastation and mayhem are incredible moments of courage and compassion. After Maria and Lucas are rescued from a tree and brought to a local village, a gray-haired woman not only tends Maria’s wounds but comforts the injured woman who can’t speak the local language. Later a group of survivors huddles together at a bus shelter, many of them protectively hoarding the last precious bits of battery life on their cell phones. But others (Sönke Möhring), in the midst of their own tragedy and pain, graciously offer their phones to strangers.
These heroic moments become the redeeming elements in this story of incredible survival. While the terrifying depiction of the tidal wave and the resulting devastation make this movie inappropriate for young viewers, adults and the oldest of teens will likely be inspired by the tenacity of the human spirit that still surfaces in the face of unimaginable calamity.
Release Date: 21 December 2012 (limited) Opens wider in 2013