“The Impossible” is based on the true story of a Spanish family, the Alvarez Belons, who were vacationing in Thailand when a tsunami devastated the Pacific Rim on December 26, 2004. The horrific wave killed 240,000 people in 14 countries and caused destruction of an unimaginable magnitude. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, the film is a compelling account of one family’s ordeal in a horrendous natural disaster.
In this screen version of the story, the Alvarez Belons are portrayed as a British family. Ewan McGregor plays Henry Bennett and Naomi Watts is his wife, Maria. He is a businessman; she is a doctor temporarily retired from her practice while caring for their three young sons. For a few minutes at the beginning of the movie, we see the family’s easy and loving interplay in the lush, coastal setting of the Thai resort where they are spending their holiday. There is a particularly beautiful scene of them on Christmas night, sending candle-lit white paper lanterns into the night sky.
The next day, the family is at the pool. Maria chases after the pages of her book, torn away by a sudden, fierce wind. The flight of the paper is momentarily stopped by a glass wall. Caught beside that glass, she looks up to see trees mowed down and parts of the hotel ripped away by a massive wave. And then the world comes apart.
Badly injured and having come within seconds of drowning, Maria sees her eldest son Lucas in the water sometime after surfacing. They manage to swim toward each other and then, partly carried by the water, partly walking, they make their way to an inland swamp. Lucas, played by Tom Holland, is certain that his father and brothers are dead. He is fixated on getting himself and his mother to higher ground, so that they can survive the next wave. But when they hear a child crying, Maria convinces him that they must try and find that child. Lucas relents, and together they find a toddler named Daniel. Lucas summons a strength beyond his years to help Daniel and his mother, who is near death. They are finally found by villagers, who get them to an inland hospital. The chaos in the hospital is surreal, the entire place overflowing with the wounded and dying. In their midst are those who are still able-bodied, desperately seeking family members.
Maria’s husband Henry, who had found his two youngest sons, gets them to safety on the rooftop of their hotel. He leaves them in the care of others while continuing to look for his wife and Lucas. He is again separated from his two boys, and for several days he keeps searching, becoming one in a mass of people, all of them seeking loved ones lost in the aftermath of the tsunami.
This film has been criticized by some for telling the story of one European family, rather than focusing on the tragedy that thousands upon thousands of Asians suffered. But in focusing on the trials of this particular family, I felt the terror and misery of all those around them, no matter their nationality or skin color.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are completely convincing, often moving, in their portrayal of the parents. The children, including the little boy who plays Daniel, are amazing. Geraldine Chaplin also makes a brief appearance; she has a quiet scene with the middle son, discussing the mystery of the stars and infinite space.
This is a good movie, worth seeing. It made me think of all the people who lost their loved ones in that tsunami, of the tragedies experienced in the several disasters we’ve seen occur in recent years. And it brought to mind those who help the victims of both natural and man-made disasters—the havoc wreaked by nature, and the ruination caused by violent conflicts and war.
If you are safe and sound, and you know your loved ones are okay, consider making a donation to the Red Cross, or Doctors Without Borders. They are always there on the front lines, helping people in impossible circumstances.