A typical Hollywood disaster film is defined by its multiple interconnected storylines where half the fun lies in guessing who would die first, extravagant special effects that cost more than the souls of the studio heads producing it, a huge ensemble cast of a bunch of B+ actors who would *actually* otherwise be brought together only if there was a real-life apocalypse, and the godforsaken choice between Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich as director, which makes ALL the difference in the world (no it doesn’t). Thankfully, The Impossible is not your typical Hollywood disaster film. In fact, it’s not a Hollywood film to begin with.
The Impossible, that stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts in the lead roles, is an English-language Spanish production about a Spanish family, The Belons, who faced the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami head on, and lived to tell their heart-wrenching tale. This is not a movie that wastes its time in setting up the impending doom, or savours the disaster scenes by amping up the destruction for the pleasure of the viewers, or even boasts of the blockbuster tag that demands limited emotional participation in exchange of instant gratification. This is a simple but powerful film about human tenacity, about surviving against all odds in the face of death, about salvaging and hanging out to the last bit of hope when life has little of it to offer.
The Belon family – Maria and Enrique Alvarez, and their three sons, Lucas, Tomas and Simon, were spending their Christmas vacation in a tropical paradise resort in Thailand on December 26, 2012, just minutes off the Thai coast, when the deadliest tsunami in human history ravaged the shores of cities across South East Asia. The Belon family, injured and separated from each other on that day, did not give up on each other, and persevered through the chaos and turmoil of post-tsunami Thailand to find each other amidst a sea of wounded, dying or dead tourists and locals, in a story that is traumatic as it is beautiful.
After powerfully setting up the haunting moment when the tsunami first struck, The Impossible follows the independent journeys of the separated family - Maria (Watts) and the eldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland) who end up in one of the many Thai hospitals teeming with the injured, and Henry (played by McGregor) and the two younger sons, Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), who are looking through every hotel, every hospital and every morgue in the hope that the rest of their family is alive.
While the disaster and its aftermath – the human suffering at the hands of an unforeseen and unexpected natural force – are definitely an important part of the movie, the core of the movie lies in what is probably the core of the human fabric: the love for family. The movie does not care to deal with subtexts or larger meanings, or try and analyse why the disaster happened, why were these particular people chosen or who was responsible for it all; instead, it taps into the most basic of human emotions and shows, through a screenplay that is at times heart-breaking, and at times fills you with elation, that the tragedy of losing everything material can always be overcome, if your loved ones are still by your side, holding your hands.
The Impossible is sometimes a difficult movie to watch, purely for the range of emotions it stirs within you, but it is also an important watch, to drive home the point that we only know too well – that love is all you need. It’s directed straight from the heart by Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage); it’s got some of the best, most natural and most heart-rendering performances seen on screen in a while, by Watts (who deserves an Oscar like nobody else), McGregor and especially Hollander, who makes the viewer feel pain, joy, suffering and hope like only the real Lucas could have felt; and ultimately and most important , it’s about courage and the triumph of the human spirit.
If these are not enough reasons to watch what is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, watch The Impossible because it will leave you with a smile on your face, as you go back home and hug your entire family, and thank the powers that be for every moment you’ve got to spend with them, and for every moment hereafter.
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