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The Impossible

A True Story from the Tsunami

Dec. 28, 2012
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It’s a safe guess: The Impossible will be nominated for a Best Special Effects Oscar. Based on a true story of survival during the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami that roared across Southeast Asia, The Impossible puts a glossy finish on catastrophe, casting Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as Maria and Henry, the couple whose dream vacation in Thailand turns to nightmare.

About those special effects: the tsunami, the film’s spectacular scene, comes early and—as in real life—with barely a breath of warning. A breeze stirs around the pool of the expensive resort, a gaggle of squealing birds takes flight and lizards dash for cover while people continue to sun themselves. And then it comes—that rushing wall of water filling the horizon, louder than Niagara Falls and carrying away everything in its path. Maria clings desperately to a palm tree as one of her three sons, Lucas, sweeps past in the tide. Somehow they find each other when the water subsides, but where are Henry and the other two boys?

The Impossible
’s story pales in comparison to the disaster that triggered it. Maria and Lucas are bloody and bruised and brought to an overwhelmed hospital by locals who had previously served as scenic backdrop. There are small gestures of human kindness and selfishness among the tourist survivors, such as whether or not to lend a stranger your cell phone when the battery is low.

But the screenplay fails to endow Maria and Henry with any particular interest. They are roused from dullness only by the parental instinct to save their children. The impression left by The Impossible’s Spanish director, Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage), has less to do with them than with the landscape of apocalyptic rubble left behind once the waters receded—the boats docked on top of houses, the barely controlled chaos of rescue workers unprepared for the scale of the disaster and the rows of body-bagged corpses spread like an exhibit of badly embalmed mummies. In 2004 the tsunami was called the storm of the century, but since then every third month brings another storm of the century and images of nature’s destructive hand have become more common. The Impossible is based on an event from the recent past, but might be a vision of how the whole world will look in the near future.


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