Not even you could have seen this coming. On December 26th, 2004, one of the deadliest natural disasters in history took near apocalyptic levels of life, claiming close to 240,000 souls. In dramatizing the phenomenon, you were responsible for recreating the raging waters of the Boxing Day tsunami that transfix us in The Impossible's cataclysmic event. And like those unsuspecting people watching the oncoming wave, I found myself unprepared to be so moved by what I saw.
Based on the true story of one family at the centre of the storm, director Juan Antonio Bayona wastes little time with set-up. Marie and Henry (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) arrive at their Thai resort for Christmas with their three young sons. Here they enjoy the serene waters of the Andaman Sea and picture perfect weather as they swim in the pool of their resort. That is until the unanticipated rapids come rushing in, which you rendered convincingly terrifying. And no matter how controlled the filmmaking conditions may have been, it's hard to consol our fear as audience members by telling ourselves what we see is "just a movie".
After what initially feels like a cheated cut to black at the moment of impact (a harrowing reveal reserved for later in the film), Marie suddenly emerges from the waters gasping for air and grasping for her survival. The look of terror and heartbreak that she channels while clinging to a tree combines the realization of hopelessness in an incomprehensible situation with the pain of having likely lost her entire family. That's when she hears the cries of her oldest son (Tom Holland) and instinctually lets go to try and reach him. As an expert in these matters, you would have undoubtedly consulted her differently, since her body smashes and rips against the collection of debris rushing along with her. The underwater photography--in this sequence and later in the film--is truly remarkable, forcing us to recoil with every moment of impact.
The waters eventually calm, but the story never loses its momentum. The two escape the muddy wake of destruction and make their way to a hospital, which only magnifies the scale of the chaos. The fear of water is then replaced by a lack of medical support and a parallel search by other family members.
Despite committing the most common of Hollywood sins and "white-washing" the cast (the real-life family was Spanish, and this film is financed in Spain), the story manages to preserve what galvanized the world when the incident occurred. The immeasurable suffering of people an ocean away inspired universal empathy. The film balances this by offering a glimmer of hope, while also acknowledging that this family's experience was extraordinary in an already extraordinary circumstance.
It's a simply plotted but engaging film, and be damned if I wasn't swept away by the thing.
Wiping a little water from my eye,