The Impossible (2012)
Dir: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Eight years ago on Boxing Day 2004 I saw the repercussions of one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history unfold from my living room. I was 16-years-old and, though I can’t remember exactly, I would probably have been watching the news report on the BBC in the morning as the tsunami hit around 8am local time (1am in the UK).
Putting the events to screen was a huge undertaking, and one which I feel was handled with the utmost sensitivity, especially after reading this article from The Guardian by a British survivor. In the article, Simon Jenkins, who was 16-years-old at the time of the tsunami, writes: “My girlfriend and I decided to go and see the film on its release date. Since the tsunami, I’ve never been hesitant to talk about it, or describe it to someone who asks, and was not therefore worried that it would unearth some suppressed memories. I had no real expectations about the film, but walked out of the cinema with an overriding sense of satisfaction.”
Simon goes on to explain how similar the story depicted in the film was to his experience. Without treading into spoiler territory too much, Simon was on the same beach and ended up in the same hospital as the characters in the film. Of course, these characters aren’t entirely fictional. They were based on the experiences of a Spanish family holidaying in Thailand, Maria and Quique Belon and their three sons, Lucas, Tomas and Simon.
On screen, Maria is portrayed by Naomi Watts, an actress I’d previously only seen in King Kong (2005) and The Painted Veil (2006). Watts impressed me in both those films and she did so once again in this action film with a twist. Instead of car chases and shoot outs Watts is pitted against one of nature’s most deadliest creations, a wave that in real life was travelling at around 495mph at a height of 20m.
While director Juan Antonio Bayona didn’t recreate a full blown tsunami for his cast, what he did produce was incredibly life like, and I’m not sure how it could have felt more real. From the terror on son Lucas’ face to the pain on Maria’s, everything is so intense and well acted that it feels like you’re right there with them, experiencing this terror for yourself.
Tom Holland, who plays the eldest son, Lucas, definitely has a strong career ahead of him. His role would have been challenging for any actor, let alone a then 15-year-old boy who had previously only done theatre work and a voiceover role in Arrietty.
While the acting and cinematography were incredible, the reason I’ve marked The Impossible down to four stars is because I felt that certain scenes were deliberately manufactured to pull on the audience’s heart strings and get them crying into their popcorn. I expected to cry and I did, with one scene in particular touching me. However, for the friends I went with and people I’ve spoken to since, the tears were more relentless.
The Impossible is a fantastic piece of filmmaking and one that I am sure I will revisit in the future. Revisiting an event from recent history that affected thousands and thousands of people all over world was an ambitious task but one that Bayona, his cast and crew handled beautifully.