Here’s a word to the wise: If for some reason you find yourself in an emotionally compromised state of mind and find the pressures of work and school overwhelming, it is ill advised to sit through The Impossible. A friend of mine proposed that the movie be renamed to “Everything That Makes Me Cry” so that the title could have more accurately represented the content. With this depressing sentiment in mind, let us prepare for the waterworks.
Although The Impossible is indeed in English, it is technically a Spanish disaster movie helmed by writer-director duo Sergio G. Sanches and Juan Antonio Bayona, respectively; the same team behind the critically praised Spanish horror flick The Orphanage (2007). Solid though not necessarily exceptional direction makes the most of the natural beauty of both Spain and Thailand where the film was shot. The nature of the wide spread destruction which constitutes the context of the conflict is presented in a way vaguely reminiscent of the famous Peter Jackson landscape sweeps.
Starring Naomi Watts as Maria Bennet and Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as husband Henry Bennett, a natural and engrossing chemistry between the two is established, driving the plot. Complementing Watts and McGregor is the 13 year old Tom Holland as elder son Lucas Bennett. Surprisingly, Holland’s performance may be the standout in this affair, as his character arc shifts from helplessness to leadership to maturity, and he deftly succeeds in capturing the essence of each stage of development. In many ways, Lucas’s character is the one that we, as an audience, can relate to the most, as he attempts to make sense of a world entirely devoid of all normality in the face of unmitigated chaos.
One of the main issues that I have with this film is that it’s so thematically unchallenging. Granted, emotionally dead though I am, it was indeed heart wrenching to see this family challenged and the bonds of kinship tested, and that’s all well and good if you’re satisfied with feasting on such low-hanging, thematic fruit. It would have increased the scope of the film even more though, had Bayona explored some of the more subtle themes which were so flagrantly on display right under his nose. For example, it seems as though the Thai people are the real heroes of this story as they disregard whatever harm came to their own property and instead focus on rescuing any survivors, foreigners though they may be. Likewise, a commentary might have been made on the disparity of wealth between the super rich tourists and the relative poverty of the Thai people, and indeed, how arbitrary wealth seems when one is faced with death. Perhaps such a move would have shifted focus away from the plight of the individual characters, but it’s not as though we haven’t seen layering and thematic expansion enrich the characterization instead of detract from it (There Will Be Blood is fresh in my mind right now, and serves as an admirable example of such a feat). Instead, we’re left with a barebones disaster movie which leaves me hungering for something more.
Still, such a fault can be overlooked because the film still does so many things right. Chilling, and more importantly, relevant and tasteful scenes of gore add a welcome sense of weight to the production, and attention to detail as far a set pieces are concerned is laudable. Also, keep your eye on Tom Holland, who may be one of the finest child actors in recent memory.
The Impossible may have striven valiantly to tell a touching story a family reunited, and in many respects it succeeds, but the fact remains that this film could have been truly epic in scope and instead sticks with the safer route of a very character driven narrative. Fortune favors the bold, as they say, and The Impossible is anything but. With the film’s already widespread success in American markets, however, it is likely that the Sanches/Bayona duo will live to fight another day.