The Impossible tells the true story of a family separated by the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.
The story begins innocently enough with an average western family flying to Thailand. As if foreshadowing of what is to come, the plane experiences turbulence. Still, it lands safely and the family enjoys their holiday – until a deluge of epic proportions demolishes entire swaths of land. The family is torn apart, and amidst the chaos and confusion of the aftermath, it is up to Lucas Bennett (Tom Holland) to get his mother Maria (Naomi Watts) to a hospital that will tend to her wounds. Meanwhile, patriarch Henry (Ewan McGregor) recovers to find only two of his boys. These he sends off to a camp in the mountains while he searches for the rest of the family.
The general tone and pacing of the film will seem like a slight déja-vu to viewers that have seen any of Emmerich’s disaster films (e.g. The Day After Tomorrow, 2012). Unlike the latter however, director Bayona’s work draws on a real-life event. It doesn’t rely on doomsday predictions, political intrigue, or sci-fi elements. Above all, I find that The Impossible has something that Emmerich’s films lacked – poignancy and genuine heart. No matter how different their backgrounds, all the survivors cooperate to recover and save lives. One scene I am particularly fond of is the one in which an elderly lady has a conversation with one of the two younger boys. They stargaze, and the lady points out how amazing it is that some of the light that we see in the night sky has come from stars that have long ago burnt out. Although the scene doesn’t really drive the plot forward, it suggests the underlying message of hope and faith in humanity.
The performers rely on facial expressions and body language rather than a striking script. This is shown in the physical pain – the blood and mud prevalent in the initial scenes – as well as the psychological pain that the characters have to endure. The terrible loss and anguish of Henry and Maria is convincingly portrayed in the form of their effusive outpours of emotion, almost reaching into hysterics. I found myself empathising with people that were in a situation that I haven’t, and hopefully never will, experience.
The dramatic score, as well as impressive CGI and cinematography also work well. Tom Holland in particular does an excellent job at playing a distraught and morose Lucas, who in the end summons the strength and maturity to get his mother to a hospital. Naomi Watts’s portrayal of Maria as a tenacious mother also deserves praise.
The sheer scope of the disaster, as well as the desire to see the family reunited, helped retain my attention – for the most part. It does drag at times, and there are coincidences that are just blatant excuses to build up tension. The film does use tropes from other disaster films, and viewers that aren’t fans of this genre probably won’t find themselves converted after having watched this one.
My final point of criticism would be that it seems to be much more focused on the harrowing experience of the tourists in Thailand, rather than the Thai people themselves. I found that to be somewhat odd. That aside, The Impossible is a touching, engaging film and definitely worth a watch.