his is one of those events about which everyone has a unique memory starting with what they were doing or where they were when they heard the news.The Dec 26th 2004 tsunami which killed more than 230,000 people was one such event.I was in Nigeria then and met with an accident that morning.My car cruising at a gentle speed hit another parked car and toppled.I escaped with minor injuries and by the time I was back home I received the news of the tsunami.With fresh wounds in my arms it was strange to be told that thousands of people had perished, in the blink of an eye, engulfed by an ocean that had just risen up and swallowed a vast swathe of innocent unsuspecting humanity. The Impossible is directed by Juan Antonio Bayona who has made the polished horror flick El Orphanato (The Orphanage).The Impossible belongs to the same genre but is much more gory and chilling.The horror here has the immediacy not seen on-screen for some time now, Spielberg’s Jaws possibly is another film that tackled a similar theme, that of innocent unsuspecting people meeting a terrible end at the hands of nature.
We see an airplane cruising over a calm pristine blue ocean.We know the plane will land safely but the ocean will rise up and engulf some of its passengers.We see Maria(Naomi Watts) and her husband Henry(Evan McGregor) and their three sons Lucas(Tom Holland),Thomas and Simon, on board a flight to Thailand to spend a leisurely holiday at a brand new upscale beach resort.Maria is a nervous flyer, she shudders in horror as the plane hits innocuous air pockets.As they check in they are told that their request for a third floor room has not been accepted due to a mix up but they are given a sea facing villa.The way Bayona sets up the coming tsunami is an act of virtuoso direction.We know the big killer wave is coming.The director has very little time to make us start caring about a family that will be torn apart very soon.
When the tsunami hits they are at the pool discussing worldly matters while their children enjoy the water.Henry may loose his job, Maria who is a doctor may be forced to start practicing again.The cinematic grammar of the tsunami hitting is the same as in countless disaster movies.There is ominous silence, followed by heart pounding music, characters flinching and coiling for the impact.What follows is a spectacular sequence that does a commendable job of capturing the fury of nature, mercilessly sweeping away everything in its way, not once but twice.Clint Eastwoods Hereafter had a breathtaking sequence of the a giant wave engulfing a resort.That is comfortably surpassed here.The family of Maria is scattered in the merciless waters. She is able to find her eldest son Lucas but is badly injured trying to save him.They clamber up a tree top in desperation and are rescued by the villagers and taken to a hospital overflowing with injured travellers.
The film deals with the unification of the family in a simple and humane way, highlighting the incomprehensible devastation and pain that everybody feels.The title of the film refers not to the tsunami but perhaps the superhuman reserves of courage, strength and compassion that human beings summon up from within in the face of an apocalyptic event like the tsunami.
The use of a single family unit and their travails to frame the human cost of this natural disaster is the correct choice.The numbers do not mean anything anymore.In the age of 24×7 news coverage loss of human life remains a statistic and a sound-bite until it is given a unique human face.It then becomes a cause célèbre till it fades organically from our consciousness .The tsunami became a tragedy as much for its carnage and unanticipated occurrence as its image of rich first world citizens enjoying a third world tropical paradise and meeting a sudden tragic end.
This film draws its power mostly from the performance of Naomi Watts and Tom Holland who embody the colossal tragedy, superlative survival instincts, the power and pull of a family unit and the great human capacity for compassion and selflessness all at once.Here human beings do all the heavy lifting, none of the characters invoke God. This is an important choice made by the director, who has flirted with the supernatural in his first film. Here he chooses to give us images of indiscriminate human suffering which fly in the face of every religious dictum.God, as we understand the concept, cannot be so brutal.We must learn to deal with the world on purely existential terms.
The only complaint I had of the film was its treatment of the locals who were equally and perhaps much worse affected by the tsunami.What happened to the charming and gracious bell-boy who shows Maria and her family into their room.And did the villagers who rescue Maria and Lucas not loose their brethren? In this film they seem to play the servile role of gracious hospitality industry workers, holding the interests of their guests as paramount.There is also a subtle product placement here for an upmarket insurance company that detracts from the film by creating a class difference. This is a film made by a westerner for a primarily western audience and it is largely honest in its choices. Meanwhile the Indonesian,Indian,Sri Lankan and African victims still wait for their stories to be told so brilliantly and passionately.
# Naomi Watts is nominated for Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role.She is likely to loose.
*The Impossible is currently playing in Singapore