Director Juan Antonio Bayona puts us through the wringer with The Impossible, a harrowing film recounting one family’s improbable survival of the 2004 tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean. Employing cutting-edge special effects and an unflinching approach toward recreating the severity of the disaster which claimed an estimated 230,000 lives and displaced 1.7 million others, the film succeeds in capturing the sense of hopelessness that faced those who survived this catastrophe, only underscoring how miraculous it was that the family in question survived in tact.
Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons are an English family, vacationing in Thailand over Christmas. However, on Dec. 26, their lives are literally turned upside down when the first of many waves from the tsunami hit the shore outside the resort they are staying in, killing thousands and separating the family. While Henry is able to care for his two youngest, Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), Maria and her eldest, Lucas (Tom Holland), are swept away in a torrent that places them miles away from civilization. With his mother severely injured, it’s up to the young teen to get her to safety as well as find medical aid in order to save her life.
The nightmare that Bayona plunges us into is unrelenting and may be too much for some to witness. The film’s re-creation of the devastation is sobering and overwhelming as we see destruction, stretching to the horizon, riddled with dead bodies, pieces of homes, uprooted tress and other debris that paints a picture of a situation that’s seemingly too large to navigate or manage. Equally effective is the director’s re-creation of Maria’s plight, as we see the cause of her injuries rendered with horrific detail. Her experience is meant to be indicative of the thousands of others injured.
One of the more daring moves the movie makes is putting newcomer Holland front and center. He’s required to carry the film for over half its running time and does so with a confidence that belies his age. He successfully shows Lucas coming of age as he eventually realizes the importance and power of thinking beyond your own well-being, experiencing first-hand the value of selflessness. Holland is quite subtle in rendering this transformation, which makes it all the more believable and meaningful.
Yet, what you will take away from the film is the sense of hope that glimmers here and there through the simple acts of human kindness. A stranger allows Henry to call home to speak to his family, even though the battery is running low. Maria helps a young child that’s been abandoned despite her being severely injured. Lucas sets out to help reunite displaced family members at the hospital where he seeks help for his mother. These are the moments that we cling to as they speak to the best part of our nature. In the face of overwhelming despair, acts of selflessness are the only things that sustain hope and prevent us from losing our humanity. And it is through these random acts of kindness, the film seems to be saying, that the impossible may be overcome.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.