The Impossible (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Instead of staying in their home in Japan, the Bennett family, led by Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor), decide to spend their Christmas vacation on a Thai resort. The day after Christmas, while they relax by the pool, a tsunami comes raging through the coast which inevitably decimates everything in its path. Maria and Lucas (Tom Holland) are separated from Henry, Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). As Maria’s health declines, so is the hope of the family finding one another in a community that must deal with deaths and missing persons.
“The Impossible,” based on the screenplay by Sergio G. Sánchez and experiences of the Belón family in December 2004, reaches inside of us and twists what it manages to hold onto. It makes for a consistently compelling watch especially from the standpoint of special and visual effects. Although it is a cut above many films of its type because the humanity of the story is often underlined, it falls into some of the expected dramatic trappings of disaster movies.
What is most sensational is watching the tsunami’s power to change a picturesque serenity of life into a horrifying vision of death. I liked that a choice is made in terms of which group to focus on. By allowing the camera to stay on Maria and Lucas’ struggle to get to one another as they are carried by a raging torrent, tension is heated until it boils. The movement of the camera below and above the water gives us an idea on how difficult it must be to gain some control of the situation for another chance of holding onto a loved one and feeling safe despite the chaos all around.
The direct aftermath is equally fascinating. It changes gears by focusing on the images around mother and son rather than the question of if or when they will be reunited. Particularly memorable to me is the sight of a dead man faced down on the water coupled with a neighboring image of a fish gasping for air. Placing them side by side touched me because it is an effective reminder of the fragility of life as well as our place in nature. Also, even though it does not further the plot, I appreciated that it turns our attention on the senses: images like people walking through mud while a trail of blood is created, sounds of a child crying for his mother, and how it must have smelled when the ocean is mixed with land and modern creations.
Since the picture does not have much plot, in some ways it is crippled. The most disappointing is the screenplay being reduced to putting characters into one place forcing them to just miss each other as one enters and the other leaves the room. It cheapens the material and I started to feel like I was being toyed. Tonally, it is a mess because it eventually begins to feel like something that is taken from a bad romantic comedy-drama. With all the horror and sadness that the Bennett family has gone through, surely they deserve something that is more respectful and less cliché.
Even though “Lo imposible,” directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, has a nasty habit of settling for dramatic techniques that are typical, one of its methods never fails to get to me every single time. That is, when two characters swim or run toward one another as the majestic music reaches a crescendo. I guess it is highly relatable: when you really miss someone and you want to hug him so hard or kiss her in a way she’s never been kissed before, the anticipation from inside of us turns into an uncontrollable spirit animal.