The Impossible is everything you expect a “true story” film about one family’s plight during the 2004 Boxing Day Asian Tsunami to be. Traumatic, harrowing, frightening, emotional (tear jerking in the extreme in fact), moving, dramatic.
How can it not be all these things?
And while it is all very predictable – apart from who does or doesn’t live, there are no surprises here at all – this is a brilliantly put together film.
The special effects, as you would expect, are amazing. The tsunami is brought to life with spectacular and horrific realism. From being tossed around underwater and battered by all manner of deadly debris, to being out of control, rushing with the water to a totally random fate on the surface, it is powerfully done. The sound effects help with this too – the cinema (if it’s a good one with a proper sound system) feels like it is shaking.
The chaos of the aftermath is also, as you would expect, impressively created. Be it the apocalyptic landscape left by the water, or the mania and confusion at the hospital.
And the feelings of fear, panic, loss, loneliness and even rising to the occasion, are, as you would expect, extremely effectively portrayed.
So what is the point of this film?
I mean I liked it. It was well made (bar a hokey Jaws like intro music and a rather drawn-out ending). I was even entertained by it. But should I have been? Should this be entertaining?
As I left the cinema at the end of the film a middle-aged chap jovially said to me “so going to Thailand for Christmas next year then egh.. ha ha ha…” Which didn’t seem funny to me.
Is this not entertainment based on others suffering? It’s a great story, no doubt. But what did this film tell me that I didn’t know about the human condition or suffering? What did it make me think or feel about these ideas that I hadn’t already thought? Well nothing really.
Does that matter? Is there value in seeing close up the horror of that day? Does that help those of us who were not there or knew no one there understand it better, or relate better to those who were there? Does this offer any kind of tribute to those who were killed that day? Does it help us prepare for our own inevitable losses? Or is it just a blockbuster movie designed to thrill? I don’t know.
The fact that the film is based very much on one family’s experiences of this disaster which affected millions is also problematic.
On the one hand this keeps the film tight. The suffering of anyone else, though not shunned, is kept firmly in the background (as are, thankfully, any graphic details of the deaths – though again this is not shunned, notably with an overhead shot of body bags).
This narrow plot device also leaves the film free of too much criticism that it is focused on the plight of western holiday-makers instead of the local Asian communities who suffered equal horrors. The few Thai characters are presented well – as helpful villagers or competent medical staff.
But on the other hand the firm focus on one family leaves the film unable to explore wider themes. There is no room outside this one family’s experiences to explore anything else other than the obvious emotions we would expect.
This told the story from various people’s perspectives including, notably, a local Thai family. It also looked at the British diplomatic corps inability to cope with the situation and delved into exploitative actions of holiday companies who in the immediate aftermath, were buying up land where villages had stood, for hotel development.
Apart from a bigger budget and therefore better effects, The Impossible, for me, added nothing that the HBO film hadn’t already looked at. Less in fact.
So The Impossible is, in conclusion, and as I hope I’ve made clear, everything you’d expect it to be. And whether this makes it a great film or not is, I guess, dependent on your views about these things. For myself, I am really not sure!