“The Impossible” – or How I Spent the New Year’s Day

Somehow I figured that there simply could not be a better way to start the New Year, than by spending a nice relaxing afternoon in the cinema. So, after a quick google search on “what’s on” at my local Moviehouse joint I decided (collectively with the Wifey) that we definitely should go and see “The Impossible”.

Now, bear in mind I had not performed any kind of research on this film before actually seeing it other than watching the trailer. The rationale behind choosing this particular film involved acknowledging the following points:

1)     The Cast (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts – that just needed to be good)

2)     The Plot allegedly based on a true story set during the infamous tsunami of 2004.

3)     My lovely wife refused to go and see “The Hobbit”.

I have to say that up until recently I have not fully registered the 2004 tsunami that ravaged so many countries and killed nearly a quarter of a million people as a major disaster. How that happened is beyond me (not the tsunami, my failure to comprehend the extent and magnitude of this event). What most likely was responsible for my utter lack of knowledge on this subject was a sad truth that virtually none of the horrible things that happen sufficiently far away from the so-called developed world are recognised as they should be. Now as I am writing this, I realise that this observation serves as a common ground for the mixed reviews “The Impossible” is reaping all across the board, but I shall get to that later on.

Where was I?

Ahh, yes… Why did I end up seeing “The Impossible”… As much as I would like to say that I was personally drawn to see Ewan McGregor do his thing just because I happen to appreciate his talent and I personally believe that he is one of the best actors out there period, I think the determining factor in the decision-making process (as highlighted above in the Point 3 of my short list) was very plain and simple – it was a joint decision and “The Hobbit” was off the table.

Now, on to the actual film. I have to begin by emphasizing that I could maybe find one or two isolated occasions in my entire life when I either walked out of a movie before the credits rolled, or when I nearly walked out of a movie before the credits rolled. Let’s be clear here, when a film sucks terribly I will stay until the end, unless I’m watching it at home, then most probably I wouldn’t give a terrible film the benefit of a doubt. It’s just the way I am, I commit at the cinema. At home – not so much. The only reason I could actually walk out of the building is when the film is just. Too. Much. And quite frankly, “The Impossible” comes incredibly close to that fine line between acceptable and ‘holy-crap-are-you-for-real’ when it comes to violence and gore. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve sat through numerous films where the violence was very realistic or even was the whole point of the film. No squinting, no squirming. I could even let out a giggle once in a while. Not this time. The reality of “The impossible” is just (nomen omen) impossible to bear, which as I shall attempt to prove, is one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of said movie.

I don’t want to say that the movie isn’t good, it is. It’s quite great actually, however it is so violently gruesome at times that it can and will make you feel at least uncomfortable. Why? Well, one reason really: “The Impossible” is a dramatised verbatim account of how a real Spanish family found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time during the tsunami. A real family, real people. I know that the “based on a true story” line is far too often hijacked by second-rate horror films that have little-to-nothing to do with being true. It’s often just a marketing tool used to flock people into the theatres. In case of this film, however, this piece of information adds a thick layer of realism to the already naturalistic picture and whichever way you look at it, it brutally empowers the message that the film conveys.

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So, in the actual film a British (yes, I’ll get to that in a moment) family of five, Henry (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts), Lucas (Tom Holland, a stunning performance by the way), Thomas and Oscar Bennett (Belon in real life) travel to Thailand to spend their Christmas holiday. While enjoying the beautiful weather and exotic surroundings sipping cocktails and playing ball on the beach, the unspeakable happens. The tsunami hits with inexplicable force, shattering and mauling everything it finds in its way. The family gets separated and while desperately trying to survive and find one another in the roaring vortex of chaos caused by the tidal wave, they need to find new qualities and inner strengths in themselves in order to have a fighting chance at reuniting the family once more. That’s more or less the plot of the film. Here, again, a big hand to Tom Holland – who beautifully portrayed the eldest son that had to stop being a spoilt brat and grow up rapidly in order to take care of his mom who was really badly injured – and I mean really badly – and who actually took over the film for quite a while as the main character.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts also deserve a word of appraisal, with Ewan’s tear-jerking telephone conversation with his family in Britain and Naomi’s ultra-realistic horrifyingly painful ordeal that had me squirm in my seat (and yes, I had to once walk out for 45 seconds to cool off) as prominent examples of their respective talents.

Now we get to the crux of this film – the pain. However you want to look at it, “The impossible” is a two hour long exercise in human suffering. A pain so realistic that it transcends the screen and gets to the viewers, I should know. I believe, visceral is the adjective commonly used in reviews to summarise this film. You can’t count on a more succinct review of “The Impossible” – it takes a man, slices him bow to stern and proudly shows the audience what’s inside.

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Following the story we can see and actually experience the physical torment of the survivors while they try to reach safety. Quite frankly, we are surrounded by suffering the whole time, as if to make a point of how bad this disaster was. We can see people dying on the side of the streets, in the makeshift triage tents and terribly overcrowded and underequipped hospitals. There are moments when there is nothing else than screams, groans and moans of dying people that pour out of the screen and the intensity with which the director Juan Antonio Bayona carries on dishing out the cruelty very quickly reaches the point of being nauseating.

And just when you’d think you got used to those gruesome pictures, another layer of pain is dropped on you – the pain of loss. You know, that kind of pain that creeps up on you and travels up to your throat only to sit there like a golf ball making it harder and harder for you to breath. That kind of pain that makes you incapable of looking at the film without crying. The music, by the way, doesn’t really help to keep the tears at bay. It’s solidly written, but somehow tacky and just obnoxious as its sole objective is to make you cry. It’s the kind of music one imagines would be a perfect background to the image of a sad puppy begging to be taken home from the dirty shelter. Yes, if there are things that I genuinely didn’t like about “The Impossible” it would have to be the score. It was just a run-of-the mill tearjerker of a score. Finely crafted, but missing this spark that I crave in the soundtracks. But hey, you can’t have it all.

So, that’s it. That’s the film. A stunning performance when it comes to acting, a horrifying and realistic story of pain, loss, love and fear. Well shot, well acted. Is it outstanding? I don’t think so. It’s a great film, but as the internet already pointed out, it fails to touch on the important subjects. Sure, we get love and pain and all that jazz, but we do see those things in every other movie that is not based on a comic book.

Well, another major issue with this film that I would like to address is how it overlooks the pain and suffering of the local people who also lost their loved ones (and homes to top that). I don’t have the exact numbers (I doubt anyone does) but even taking into account the fact that a large number of people affected by the tsunami were tourists, I would be inclined to say that the local communities were hit so much harder as the workaday Thai or Malaysians who are fishermen and such, don’t have expensive insurance covers. They cannot afford the state-of-the-art medical care. And here we are watching a middle-class English family in utter disregard of the people who would have to rebuild their homes once the chaos recedes. I don’t want to diminish the tragedies of any people involved, but we need to realise that once all the tourists were flown back to their home countries and placed under fantastic medical care, these local people had to rebuild their whole towns, and found themselves in a world where they couldn’t live the way they used to.

“The Impossible” by not touching on this very sensitive subject actually emphasises our tendency as the so-called first world to disregard the problems of people who happen to live on the other side of the globe.

In summary, I left the cinema in a state of shock. Not because of the message, but because of the naturalistic violence that was used as a tool to get the message across (and boy, was the popcorn a waste of money). “The Impossible” is a great film – once again, Tom Holland, bravo – but it is a bit too much to digest.

When I leave the cinema having just watched a great film, I know I want to watch it again someday. I can’t say the same about “The Impossible”. Quite frankly, I don’t want to see it again. Ever.

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