The Impossible (review)

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The Impossible green light Naomi Watts Tom Holland

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s a disaster movie, but not as we know it. Sure, a British family vacationing in Thailand over the holidays in 2004 is hit head-on by the Boxing Day tsunami, and this opening sequence is as intense and as terrifying as anything the cinema of cataclysm has ever given us… with the extra unanticipated nightmarish bonus of depicting, through slow, precise horrors, just how devastating an invading carpet of ocean can be, even when it’s nothing at all like the monstrous wall of water disaster movies of the past have trained us to expect. Maria (Naomi Watts: J. Edgar) and her eldest son, the 12-ish Lucas (Tom Holland: Arrietty), are violently swept away into a landscape that would be alien to them, as foreign visitors, even had it not been rendered unrecognizable by rushing water… and this additional level of chaos and dislocation negates, I believe, the disapproval that’s been tut-tutted with regards to the film, that it chose to focus on white Westerners rather than native Thai victims. That Maria and Lucas do not speak the language of those who eventually come to their aid adds another complex layer of disconnect and, ironically, shared humanity; the impetus to help those in jeopardy transcends language and culture here, in more ways than one. (That the film, which is based on a true story, changes the nationality of the real-life family from Spanish to British is less easy to justify, beyond the usual rationale that financial backing was easier to come by with internationally recognized names in the starring roles. As if there are no internationally recognized Spanish actors.) Now, separated from her husband (Ewan McGregor: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) and younger sons (Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin), unaware of whether they’re even still alive, Maria and Lucas must struggle not only to survive but to find their family. Director Juan Antonio Bayona, who made the wonderfully creepy The Orphanage, brings a new heart to the disaster film, focusing not on the large scale of physical destruction but on the small scale of fragile, traumatized people amidst the unimaginable scope of the catastrophe, which — we see — leaves tens of thousands of people, visitors and natives alike, lost in ways both metaphorical and literal. There are moments here of such profound despair and heartbreak — one in particular features McGregor losing his composure in a way I cannot recall ever seeing a man do onscreen before — that it’s impossible not to share it.

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Wed, Jan 16, 2013 11:24pm

Just the trailer for this film always makes me feel uneasy (and the theater I usually go to plays it ALL THE DAMN TIME, both before the movie and on a loop at the lobby). I can’t imagine sitting through 90 minutes of this, no matter how hopeful it turns out at the end. I already had enough when I saw this on the news at the time, thank you.

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 1:43am

I thought this movie deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.  The effects are mostly non-CGI and they are amazing.  Even the make-up effects are much better than nominated movies (the make-up effects in Les Mis are a joke compared to the injury effects here). And Naomi Watts is great. While this movie is hard to watch, it is quite an achievement.

Thu, Jan 17, 2013 12:28pm

To me the whole whitewashing thing is annoying because it’s so pointless. I’m used to Hollywood thinking I won’t be able to empathise with black people or homosexuals or women who aren’t obsessed with marriage and babies, but now Spanish people are off-limits too? Too much.

(But actually I’d be much more interested in another story that I know about, because a friend of mine was there – his (Royal Navy) ship went over there (a couple of days before Blair said “yay me, I have decided to send a ship”) and the crew quietly got on with saving people’s lives, pumping out wells, rebuilding hospitals…)

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Jan 31, 2013 1:51am

To me the whole whitewashing thing is annoying because it’s so pointless. I’m used to Hollywood thinking I won’t be able to empathise with black people or homosexuals or women who aren’t obsessed with marriage and babies, but now Spanish people are off-limits too? Too much.

Given the fact that Spaniards are Europeans and most of them light-skinned to boot, it seems a bit ironic to see the word “whitewashed” used in regard to this movie. But if the jackboot fits…

Sun, Jan 20, 2013 5:41pm

Gotta say I’m still not happy that the disaster took place in Thailand and yet the film focuses entirely on a white family.

Less Lee Moore
Less Lee Moore
Wed, Jan 23, 2013 4:38pm

After reading your review, I actually sort of want to see this now. I also hate the white washing aspect, but your review made me reconsider my desire to watch the film.

Thu, Jul 04, 2013 3:20pm

Huh, I hadn’t thought of that point of view of the” whitewashing.”
Another thing to consider is how much film concentrates on the visual, and how much the verbal will be lost in all the anticipated translations. I actually like multilingual films, especially if the languages I don’t know are also captioned, but I gather that’s not appealing to everyone. The visual contrast of Caucasian in a sea of Asian faces helps to convey the disorientation of the foreigners in a time of disaster. On the other hand, good writing could convey it, and maybe expecting less of the audience is a spiral worth trying to avoid.