Impossible to forget
“The Impossible,” released last year but still rolling out across the country is a simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-warming depiction of one family’s struggle for survival during the Indian Ocean tsunami that wrecked most of Southeast Asia the day after Christmas, 2004.
Though the story focuses on the ‘impossible,” inexcusable is the word to best describe the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ choice not to nominate “The Impossible” for a best picture Oscar. This decision is rendered even more inexplicable given the Academy only selected nine films in a category that allows for 10 nominees.
Triggered by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded, the tsunami killed over 230,000 people, but the film focuses on a single British family (their Spanish nationality changed for casting purposes) which traveled to Thailand on vacation. The family is portrayed by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts as the parents of three young boys, with Lucas, the eldest, played by Tom Holland. Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (2007’s terrific “The Orphanage”) makes every moment feel all too real.
The film opens with breezy scenes of the family arriving to enjoy the Christmas holiday at a beautiful resort – lighting candle balloons on the beach at night and frolicking in the pool the next day. But that’s when the nightmare begins as a torrent of water, without warning, crashes down on everything in its path, with 100-foot high waves knocking down trees, smashing buildings like matchsticks and throwing boats miles inland.
Bayona and his crew do an incredibly terrifying job of throwing the audience into the chaos of debris, dead bodies, and underwater mayhem, using water tanks and scale models instead of CGI, to ghastly effect. The sound engineers deserve credit too. “The Impossible” has as unique visceral impact both visually and sonically as any disaster film ever made.
As riveting as “The Impossible” is, a powerful humanity surfaces, literally, when Maria (Watts) and Lucas—both of whom are amazing—survive. Despite their life-threatening injuries, they decide to help others during the horrific scenes of a makeshift hospital that looks like a MASH unit after a military attack.
The story doesn’t lose any momentum when it shifts to Henry (McGregor) finding his two boys and making a gut-wrenching decision in order to try to find his wife and other son. That’s the most powerful element of “The Impossible.” Some might seek a more spiritual message, or some bigger picture perspective as a result of such a catastrophic event. (It’s the kind of liberty director Ang Lee took with “Life of Pi” that nearly ruined that film’s incredible survival tale.) But “The Impossible” tells the story of one family’s survival without disdain for the hundreds of thousands who perished.
Perhaps those who survived were indeed lucky; a miracle of sorts. Capturing the calamity, while giving audiences such an immersive experience that haunts and inspires, is a miracle in itself. “The Impossible” is certainly worthy of the final best picture Oscar nomination the Academy had room to give.
Rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity.