THE IMPOSSIBLE (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012)
IMPOSSIBLE dramatizes one incredible true story to emerge from the 2004
Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest natural disaster of its kind on
record. Like many others, Henry and Maria Bennett (Ewan McGregor and
Naomi Watts) and their three boys have come to Khao Lak, Thailand for
Christmas vacation. They’re relaxing by the resort’s pool when the
tsunami hits the southeast Asian coast.
and her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) surface from the floodwater near
each other. He’s scraped up but otherwise in good shape. She’s
received large wounds in her leg and side but, with her son’s
assistance, is able to hobble to the safety of a tree. They suspect the
rest of their family is dead. Their own survival is also a question.
locals eventually discover them and provide help. Maria is taken to
the hospital, but her injuries and a staff overwhelmed by the number of
patients mean that she’s far from being in the clear.
Juan Antonio Bayona stages the tsunami as though an enormous monster
has risen from the ocean. The birds are spooked, and in the distance
trees in its path are toppled like blades of grass by a lawnmower. Then
the wave spills into the resort, casting people aside like rag dolls
and smashing the buildings. In the even more terrifying sequence that
follows, survivors are desperate to keep their heads above water while
being swept across the flooded landscape. Potentially dangerous
obstacles bob along the surface while even more hide below. With
heart-stopping immediacy, Bayona plunges into the midst of the disaster
while making it seem unimaginable that anyone could make it out alive if
near the shore when the giant wave first reaches land.
challenges in the disaster’s aftermath are anything but minor, yet once
the survivors reach safe ground, THE IMPOSSIBLE loses dramatic urgency.
For as tragic and horrific an event as this was, the Bennetts have a
relatively easy time of it in retrospect. At least that’s how the
screenplay frames their experiences, especially in comparison to the
hardships of their fellow tourists and the mostly ignored Thai
residents. The post-tsunami period brings chaos of a different kind,
but the protagonists manage to navigate it as though it’s but an
actresses suffer as expressively on screen as Watts. In THE IMPOSSIBLE
she beautifully conveys a mother’s will to endure her suffering for the
sake of those she loves. Holland does good work as a kid who is forced
to be strong in an unthinkable situation. THE IMPOSSIBLE doesn’t turn a
blind eye to the physical and emotional devastation, but the
comparatively uncomplicated path it follows to arrive at a reassuring
conclusion minimizes the impact.