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The Impossible

April 27, 2013

The Impossible movie poster

The Impossible is the true story of a family vacationing in Khao Luk Thailand that survived the brutal 2004 tsunami that killed over 200,000 people.

The Impossible was funded by Spanish film companies and  directed by Juan Bayona (Orphanage). Bayona reunited most of the Orphanage crew (Cinematographer, production manager, writer, editor, composer)  and together they made a gripping drama that was well received (81% Rt)  and somewhat maligned for it’s choice of using an international non-Spanish cast. Despite the arguments of nationality the movie provides a powerful punch of seamless CGI and realistic performances to create the community of humans who unselfishly put themselves in danger to help the survivors of the brutal natural attack.

The Impossible Tsunami

Some critics complained the film was “white-washed” and “overdramatic.” They wondered why a story about a Spanish family became the story of well-to-do Caucasian crew.  It is understandable that people are frustrated by the need for international actors needed to sell the film to a larger audience. However, the performances by Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland are fantastic and they draw you in to the story. Naomi Watts and Tom Holland had to spend six weeks in a massive water tank in order to realistically capture the full effect of the tsunami. I loved Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook but 30 minutes into The Impossible I was left baffled as to why Watts didn’t walk away with the Academy Award. Watts exudes every emotion in the book and she is 100% believable as she struggles to protect her family and keep herself moving. There is a dignity to her performance even as she is covered in blood and mud.

The Impossible Naomi Watts

Despite the life affirming story and wonderful performances the film got caught up in a casting conspiracy. The director explains the casting conundrum in a Huffington Post article.

“I would have loved to tell this story with Spanish actors. We tried, but it proved impossible to raise funding without international actors. The first version of the screenplay was written in Spanish and then we realized that 80% of the dialogue was also in English. So it was natural that we chose European actors who speak English. But, without revealing the nationality of the protagonists. This is not a film of nationality, race or social class. All that was swept by the wave,”

Simon Jenkins a survivor of the tsunami read the negative reviews and released a statement with The Guardian:

“As I must, I’ve never been the sort of person to revisit and analyze events of the past, but some of these articles frustrated me. Had this film been purely about the tale of a western middle-class family’s “ruined” holiday then I would have agreed. For me, it was the exact opposite. Rather than concentrating on the “privileged white visitors”, the film portrayed the profound sense of community and unity that I experienced in Thailand, with this family at the centre of it. Both for my (then) 16-year-old self and the Belon family, it was the Thai people who waded through the settled water after the first wave had struck to help individuals and families….The Thai people had just lost everything – homes, businesses, families – yet their instinct was to help the tourists.”

The Impossible may focus on a privileged family but it shows how people bond together after catastrophe.  To sit in a theater or at home and dismiss this film as melodrama or emotionally manipulative is to cheat yourself of an engrossing experience. Sure, there are some moments when the family miss each other by seconds but in a hospital loaded with thousands of dirty people it is easy to miss a person. Looking for small problems while a family struggles to find each other is the product of a spoiled nation. Criticism can be found anywhere and we have that luxury. However, after surviving a harrowing first wave I applauded as mother and son did everything they could to save each other.

Watch the Impossible. Appreciate the Watts. Look forward to Bayona’s next film.

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