While my fellow socialites trudged through the snow to the Cold War Party to get out their historico-political ya-ya’s for the year, I decided to top off a Winter Weekend full of sleigh rides and s’mores with a movie about one family’s harrowing saga of near-death trauma and third-world hospital nightmares. Why not?
Just watching the trailer for “The Impossible” gave me a lump in my throat, so I had an inkling that I might be in for an emotional evening. I came prepared with tissues in hand and the proverbial waterproof mascara.
In my case, the waterworks kicked in after the 19-minute mark. And, unlike your average tear-jerker which allows for the occasional break to catch your breath, “The Impossible” was an emotional sprint all the way through.
With the sweeping, violin-heavy soundtrack and sequences of muddied and battered survivors calling out to their families, I never stood a chance. Luckily, I enjoy a good hour and forty-seven minute sobfest every once in a while.
Nevertheless, I would caution that some might leave this movie emotionally drained and vowing never to say “in a minute” or “maybe tomorrow,” to your loved ones ever again.
“The Impossible” recounts the true story of a Spanish family of five who spent Christmas of 2004 at a resort in Phuket, Thailand. The next morning, an earthquake with the force of 23,000 atomic bombs caused a tsunami that devastated a huge region—primarily in Southeast Asia. However, its path of destruction reached as far as Tanzania and killed over 200,000 people.
The family, separated by the turmoil and coping with severe injuries, challenge the unfavorable odds to search for each other amidst the ruin. In doing so, they have inspiring encounters with other survivors and interactions with the Thai healthcare system that make you appreciate the luxury of the local ER.
This movie has a lot going for it—that is, based on what I could make out through my blurred vision and from what I could hear over my own shameless nose-blowing.
The story is undeniably incredible, simply because of the unbelievable circumstances. There is no catch or plot twist that makes this particular family’s story especially worthy of a feature film aside from the fact that they did, in fact, live.
Based on interviews with the actual family, it seems that the screenwriters tied the story closely to the real events, a choice that I deeply appreciate in a dramatization of this kind. That said—and perhaps for this very reason—there is nothing remarkable about the screenplay or plot development.
The film is beautiful to watch, despite the widespread destruction. Much of the film was shot in Thailand, including some scenes at the newly rebuilt but yet unopened hotel in which the family actually stayed.
The landscape is spectacular and the filmmakers used impressive visual and auditory effects to create a gut-wrenching sense of being thrown around under the gigantic waves and crushing debris.
Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor,and the young actors playing their three sons all give commendable performances (bonus points to the young’uns for being so gosh darn cute). Equally praiseworthy is the filmmakers’ ability to make such remarkably good-looking people appear seriously worse for wear. In fact, a bloodied Watts has one scene that is so gruesome it evokes flashes of “The Ring,” Watts’ well-known horror movie.
The genre of films that dramatize relatively recent tragedies (think “Zero Dark Thirty”) faces an obvious challenge: how do you tell an interesting, engaging story when everyone knows the ending? Going into this movie, everyone knows on some level that the family will survive the initial disaster, because otherwise there would be no story to tell.
Even so, the feat of visually bringing to life this inconceivable catastrophe and telling such a poignant, affecting story led me to forgive the film’s lack of ingenuity.
“The Impossible” was almost exactly what I expected it to be. And while some might consider this a disappointment, sometimes all you want is a movie that makes you cry your face off but still find yourself uplifted at the end of it all.