Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Impossible [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

The Impossible (directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, screenplay by Sergio G. Sánchez) is certainly one of the best English language movies to be released this year. The film comes from Spain and is based on the true story of a Spanish/Catalan family that had survived 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami while vacationing in Thailand during the Christmas holiday that year.

To perhaps make the film accessible to a larger audience (and hence more profitable... Spain, after all, has been one of the countries most deeply effected by the post-2008/ongoing Euro-Crisis) the decision was made to make the family in the film British and give the lead roles then to well known actors from the U.K. like Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.  Even if there must have been some sadness on the part of the Spanish film-makers to change the nationality of the protagonists, the change works in the film, in good part because the disaster, at least in Thailand, effected hundreds of thousands of vacationers from all over Europe including ex-pats from Britain.   To perhaps sooth potentially ruffled feathers, the film while premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in Sept 2012, was first opened for wide release in Spain in Oct 2012 before opening-up in North America just before Christmas 2012.

Now an American audience may find the story of European tourists vacationing in Thailand over the Christmas holiday almost impossibly difficult to relate to.  Thailand is, after all, a half a world away from the United States.  Then, honestly, when most Americans think of Christmas, they certainly don't think of Thailand.  However, as I had already noted in my review of the film Best Exotic Marigold Hotel [2012], the "Far East" isn't altogether that far from Europe these days.  Arguably, it would be the same distance from London to Thailand as from London to Miami, Florida.  Then the family in the movie was presented as British ex-pats living in Japan and from Japan, the distance to Thailand becomes on the order of Chicago to Puerto Vayarta or to Cancun, Mexico.  And those are winter time-share vacation destinations for mid-range upper-middle-class American families and even for the Christmas holidays.

However, even if the family in this film initially remains as unrelatable to most Americans as most of the upper-class passengers traveling on the Titanic before it went down, I am more or less certain almost everyone will find the portrayal of the horror of the crashing waves of the Tsunami (about 15 minutes into the movie) and their aftermath to be jaw-droppingly horrifying.  For the Tsunami didn't simply drown people, it threw them around, impaling them against all kinds of random objects, then throwing those objects (trees, branches, metal bars, telephone poles / wires, etc) around as well.

The cinematography is so stunning, so horrifying and so utterly believable that one wonders how anyone finding him/herself swept-up by the Tsunami's waves could have possibly survived.  Afterwards, one honestly marvels how any of the survivors, often wounded, bleeding, covered in mud often mixed with broken rock, ceramic and glass (basically random shrapnel) could ever be found and treated for their wounds.

Even Hurricane Katrina (and more recently Hurricane Sandy...) have proven to be enormously painful disasters for a country as rich and medical resource filled as the United States.  Imagine a hurricane like Katrina striking a much poorer country like Thailand with no warning (none!) at all.  Imagine having to mobilize a response, within hours, to deal with a disaster effecting not only hundreds of thousands of your own people but also hundreds of thousands of dazed, mud-covered, bleeding utterly non-Thai speaking tourists as well. 

It is this chaos that the film captures and captures so well.  Maria (played by Naomi Watts) and Henry (played by Ewan McGregor) were simply there in by the pool at the vacation resort in Thailand with their three kids (the oldest 10 year old Lucas played exquisitely by Tom Holland) where in a split second with the crashing of waves coming from the ocean maybe a hundred yards away, their lives were completely utterly thrown into chaos.  Much of the film involved simply finding groups of each other, then after finding each other seeking to not lose each other again, all taking place in the midst of mud, confusion, and dealing with one's own wounds.

I found this film honestly to be a stunning picture.  Yes very few of us in the States would probably imagine ever traveling to Thailand.  Yet, once the waves start crashing, I do believe that just about all of us could immediately relate to the horror this family and so many others, Thai and non-Thai, like it went through.


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