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Aug 23, 2013

Review: The Impossible (2012)

           Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin, Marta Etura and Simon Blyberg


                   Juan Antonio Bayona


                 Some movies often tries to make the audience experience something unimaginable and horrific. Like movies that are based on real-life disasters, natural or man-made. Often their specific goal is to entertain one by its visuals and how accurately it re-creates these events. They succeeds in showing us destruction, making us hold our breath but rarely do they paint a very emotionally shaking picture of the loss that is of human beings. The characters aren't that fleshed out and they seem pretty much like people filling the screen, suffering for a while and then dying one by one. The Impossible is a movie based on the true story of a family's survival during the destructive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took so many lives and left many countries, suffer the worse. It is directed by Juan Antonio Bayona who previously made "The Orphanage" which I haven't seen yet. At the center of this movie is this one family, Maria and Henry Belon and their three children named Henry, Lucas and Thomas. They are spending their Christmas vacations in Thailand. They were in the resort the morning this grave tragedy struck. The family was separated and then the desperate search began for them to reunite. The nationalities of these characters aren't really specified but they are English with a different accent. The director intended to make it a universal film about this disaster so it wasn't really important where they came from. Though it is based on a real life Spanish family. Now I came across many reviews and some posts last year regarding how typical this movie was with its plot about an "English" family's vacation being ruined by a disaster and then it ends in a feel-good way. They said it was offensive to those families who suffered great loss. And that there were far more spirited stories of the locals they could have portrayed and things like that. I don't get this, perhaps I never will! Why on earth do these critics and bloggers have such a narrow minded approach towards movies that tries to do something different. How can you expect a movie based on such big incident that killed thousands of people, effected many families in many countries to be able to cover such a big scope?

                 Why so much questions on the nationalities? Does it matter because many people died and they were of different nationalities and spoke different languages. It is a universal statement for all those people who were effected by this tragedy. I am sure if it was specifically on the locals (though they are often shown in the movie) people still would have found ways to criticize it in many ways. Like they do that for English filmmakers only showing slums in movies that are based on India. They think because of that, the filmmakers are always glamorizing or agonizing a particular community, religion, language.... why must these cynical and unimportant things be given so much importance? This particular piece of cinema is just trying to re-create the horrors of the deadly disaster convincingly, at the same time it shows how strong a human being can be in the midst of all that. How love, compassion, spirit, dedication and our basic existence in this world is largely based around our will to survive as to be with the people we love and experience more in life. The Impossible begins with the family in a celebrating mood, they seem to be enjoying their time away. The couple loves each other very much, the children looks sweet, a very happy family. They are doing usual things that very morning, reading or playing in the pool. They are far from home but still worried for the usual problems. But they are trying best to just have fun. Was their vacation ruined? yes it was. So were many others, so were the people who are attached to the tourism industry, their lives were interrupted as well. The general population was effected as well, they had their own lives. Why would you look at the most pathetic of things? A filmmaker can only go as far as bringing together themes related something in particular by capturing a certain aspect of it which will ultimately apply to everything else as well. This is just 'a' story and I am sure there were thousands of others. Film criticism have reached a point where what we only do is criticize the very basic things that directly shows how much limited we think. To be able to view and talk about the faults in others, one should must take a good look at themselves first.

                 I know I sound pretty angsty but these things often bothers me very much. Reviewing movies for me is not just about what is good or what is bad but its mostly involves how much I relate to it, my overall experience, what I think about the subject myself and so on. I think I said what I had to so now lets get back to the movie. The Impossible features some of the best performances I have seen in a "disaster" movie. Naomi Watts as Maria gave one of the most strongest performances of her career. There was so much praise going on for her turn in this movie last year, many actors were very much publicly expressing their love for her and the movie. That shows how much a tragedy effects people who aren't even in the midst of it. Human suffering is always a topic that disturbs me more than anything else. Watts' most physically demanding, visceral and at the same time quite subtle performance. It had to cover many grounds. The way she is separated from her family, with only her eldest son with her. The way she battles the rushing water and the debris. She is hurt and in much pain but her will to survive is visible in her actions. Maria holds herself together barely breathing, she also tries to keep the spirits up for her son which is quite moving to watch. Maria is slowly weakening, right before our eyes she is losing her strength. The pain and every kind of emotion that she feels is captured in a superb way by Watts. Her performance packs a lot of emotional heft and she convincingly delivers it all rarely coming across as underwhelming or fake. However, the biggest surprise in this movie was the young actor Tom Holland. His breakthrough performance is quite heartbreaking and shattering on a much more intimate level. For a young boy who have rarely entered his teen years, to witness something like this and be surrounded by so much destruction, fear and pain, Holland does a very beautiful job at capturing those feelings. His performance is very believable, he kind of carries this movie. The other characters separated, largely on their own. But Lucas is who basically takes the charge, listens to what his mother have been telling him and starts doing things on his own. Lucas starts learning great deal of things on his way, the experience is much more than what he would have ever had the chance to learn from.

                 Ewan McGregor himself never blew me away in any of his movies. He has given some very fine performances and often came close to being a good actor but he misses out for me. Here however he gives one of his better performances as a father trying his very best to reunite his family. He takes on the responsibility to find whether his wife and his child are alive. He leaves his two young sons behind him in a camp where shelter and safe transportation is provided, while he himself goes to look for them in a vastly destroyed landscape. There is one scene where Henry is talking on the phone. That very moment, McGregor turns a phone conversation into an explosive emotional punch and you wont help it but start crying at the pain a father is feeling to have not been able to take care of his family and largely unaware of the whereabouts of his beloved ones. So as i said, The Impossible features superb performances which helps a lot in making this journey very engaging emotionally for us and bringing alive the agony everyone there must have suffered on their way. The movie is both emotionally realistic and an epic re-creation as well. The tsunami sequence in the beginning is one of the most frightening and breathtaking moments i have ever had to experience. People battling it out to save themselves, everyone is on the mercy of gushing water. To see both the characters struggling to get somewhere safe, crashing with several objects that are being washed away and making them more physically damaged than before is painful. Superb visual effects and quite terrifically done sequence. This is an experience that none of us can shake off from after witnessing it in this movie. I hope we never get to experience anything like this in real-life. The Impossible is neither complex nor does it tries to be anything pretentious. It is just a straightforward depiction of something very painful. The Impossible never keeps on crying over what happened, it is something that many movies do. I think it is rather better not to dwell so much on the horrible things that have happened. Of course you can't help it but its never healthy. You can never forget such things but you try to live with them and find peace along the way. So the movie tries to emphasize on survival, which is both terribly agonizing, liberating in a sense and at the same time it "looks back" at the people who were unfortunate enough, in a way that is anything but a "feel-good" ending. People think it is but its certainly not. If you have seen the ending, you know what i am talking about.

                 The Impossible has some flaws but nothing largely off-putting. I can see how a movie like this occasionally succumbs to the very typical handling of something sentimental. I was one of those people who rolled their eyes during the moment where the family is unable to spot each other, they are very close to meeting each other but can't. But i can forgive that one small flaw, its nothing big. The Impossible was a very soul-shaking experience for me. I was crying most of the time during the second half of it. It is emotional, gut-wrenching and a well-acted movie that will make you stop for a second, think about your life and the others and how much lucky one is to be alive in a world where people die every day in many ways. Emphasizes on living with a sense of understanding and taking on responsibility for people around us and ourselves.

Grade: B+