Disaster movies usually have a two-pronged challenge: to make a believable film, and to make an effective film. The surprisingly good The Impossible achieves both, through amazingly realistic sets and special effects and through the intense family drama of the narrative.
It recounts the true story of a Spanish family of tourists in Thailand for Christmas 2004, right as the devastating tsunami that affected thousands hit the shores. These scenes, which actually hit pretty early on the film, are very frightening and come about as close as I can possibly imagine the true experience of living through a tragedy like that could be. The sheer force of water plunging characters below, paired with the pounding sound design (with one character momentarily deafened) contribute to the sense of horror that these characters, and real people, had to face.
In addition to the sheer technical feat of successfully recreating such a massive and devastating event, The Impossible succeeds by telling the story of a disaster so well. Like with other mass tragedies, such as the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima, and many others, it is nearly impossible for any of us to fathom the loss and devastation behind the staggering numbers of fatalities. The Impossible doesn’t try to do that. It follows in the tradition of other great disaster movies by focusing on a handful of people, in this instance a family, making the tragedy something we can relate to and empathize with.
This is also where the movie gets its strong suit. Sure, it’s about the tsunami and the devastating effect it has on Asia, but the disaster is over 30 minutes into the film. The bulk of it, and the emotional punch of this film, is how this family and those affected in a broader sense, deal with this catastrophe. The Impossible is, at its core, a testament to the ability of a family to maintain hope and love in the most dire of circumstances. It is a less hyperbolic version of Poltergeist (a movie which I frankly don’t like), to test the love of a family against true, devastating events.
We get great performances all around, especially from Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and fresh face Tom Holland as the family’s eldest son. The Impossible is definitely one of the better movies of 2012 and serves as a nice spiritual companion to Beasts of the Southern Wild as a film about disaster and how the human spirit maintains strength even when facing the most dire of circumstances.