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The Impossible Review: To Love, and to Be Loved

By Amanda Mae Meyncke | Film Reviews | December 24, 2012 | Comments ()


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Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as the parents of a family on Christmas vacation in Thailand in 2004, which was a tremendously bad time to be traveling in Thailand. When a tsunami strikes unexpectedly, the family is ripped apart with no way of knowing if the others are alive, knowing only that they must get to safety. Maria (Naomi Watts) is badly hurt, and she and her son Lucas (Tom Holland) trek through water and devastation for hours, days, without knowing the extent of the disaster, or if the rest of the family, Henry (McGregor) and Lucas' two brothers (Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast) are alive, braving darkness and destruction, hospitals and chaos, all striving to find one another against all odds.

Disaster films are terrifying, especially ones on the scale and magnitude of The Impossible that hold nothing back in their attempt to recreate the experience. The tsunami that sweeps across the country and rips their family apart is breathtaking and terrifying in its power, sweep and grandeur. This film is not for the squeamish, as we're given a first person experience of the initial wave, the following torrential flooding and total devastation and it is difficult to experience, even in cinematic form. Even more palpable is the hopelessness of their task, to find a few solitary people amidst tens of thousands of bodies and teeming hospitals.

The mechanics of the film are outstanding at all times, the realism of the tsunami and flooding, the cinematography that captures every speck of dirt and water, and the performances are no less impressive, particularly the exhausting work of McGregor, dazed and confused without a clear course of action, and Watts, who treads the line between fear and despair, and remaining strong for those around her. Tom Holland deserves special recognition for his work as Lucas, so young and brave in an unfamiliar and impossible situation. The film never sinks into petty voyeurism or sensationalism, but instead works continuously towards realism. Though it slips at time into almost melodrama, it is based on a true story which forgives many of the smaller gaffs.

The film is sly, very canny in making you feel things you may not have expected. I found my single self thinking about how nice it might be to have a family of my own, a desire unfamiliar to me most of the time. As they struggled together and fought for survival, it suddenly seemed less terrible and more inviting than I had remembered. You start doing the math on how old you'll be if you have a baby at a certain stage, how old you'll be if you get married at a certain point, and these are dangerous mathematical equations, pitting you against and unknowable future. I do not envy the lives of those around me who have chosen to have children, by and large it seems a sleep-deprived, messy affair that takes your humanity from you in incremental stages. But in the quieter moments of The Impossible, it didn't seem so bad to have this integrated support system, this team of people to belong to, you and yours.

The remarkable thing is the clarifying tunnel vision that comes with such an event. Things are bad, surely, but they're not as bad as being separated from your potentially dead loved ones in a foreign country in the midst of a natural disaster. If you're feeling cynical or bitter, Impossible has a way of lifting that from you. Gone are the petty jealousies or childish misbehavior, as fear of loss cuts to the core of who we are. The love the family shares runs deep, and their return to the basics of life is immediate. To love and to be loved, to need and to be needed, to give and to be given. There's something humbling about watching such private moments of sadness and joy, something that calls to us from a higher plane, reminding us of our own petty jealousies and childish misbehavior, asking us to relent and release our grudges and hatreds in the face of stunning realization.

Note to those who like to experience films for themselves: The trailers for this one ruined the plot by mashing together every key action oriented scene with that terrible U2 song "One Love," so try to avoid it if you can. Just know that the film will be brutal and wrenching, like breaking a bone, but the resolution is as relieving and strong as a broken bone healed over and ready for use.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Smash83

    I am way behind the time being in Australia and having just watched this! Thought it was a great film and the acting was top notch but I couldn't help but feel annoyed at how they overplayed the drama. This is not a situation that ever required a play on emotion. It was a horrific, harrowing situation yet the director felt the need to over-egg some of the scenes - fingers reaching out to touch each other across the flood; families missing each other by a whisker. I know it's a film but the despair and sorrow is evident. No need to play it for more tears. I cried my blooming eyes out and have an enormous respect for everyone that was touched by the disaster and are still, I'm sure, dealing with what they went through.

  • Shy

    I can’t believe there is so much racism from african-americans towards this movie? Why? Because there was no charity spot for african-american actor like they do have now in every movie and tv show. Because otherwise they will scream "racism".

    There were only 5 main actors. And they were family. And they movie was based on true story.

    Funny you would never read or hear white people talk bad about African-americans in any site. But you would hear them trash talk white people for no reason all the time. African-americans are the biggest racists other there now! It’s disgusting. Like - you can’t watch movie because there are white actors there? I came here to read opinions about movie. Instead I had to read all those racists comments.

  • DEVILDOGGIE

    They lost me when Naomi and Ewan, battered and bloody though they might be,kept those intact shiny flourescent white capped choppers of theirs...call it movie star vanity, but it just always rings so false for me, hard to get over. Otherwise, a kinda good flick, I teared up..oh and there is amazing real life first person video of the '04 tsunami on YouTube..gutting.

  • Writer451

    This review is unworthy of Pajiba. I came here looking for a bitchy review I could commiserate with. Instead, I got a fluff piece that doesn't say anything relevant.

    If you think that walking around the mall looking for D batteries is entertaining (and not frustrating) then you'll probably love WATCHING someone walk around Indonesia looking for their family. Oh yeah, there's also a kid in it who keeps freaking out, so it's a lot like wandering around the mall in more ways than one.

  • zdrav

    And to prove that I'm not some irrational hater, "Lost in Translation" is one of my favourite movies of all time, even though it's about 2 White people in a city of millions of Japanese people.

    Why?

    Because it doesn't belittle the hardships of the Japanese, nor does it make it seem as if the stories of the White people are any more important than that of the Japanese.

    While it may be nice to find out what life is like in Tokyo for a real Japanese person as opposed to a pair of American visitors, there's nothing that offensive about seeing the story of the visitors.

  • Theunis Stofberg

    of course it is about white people. white people watch movies and you need to make a movie about people that the watcher can identify with. hence the white people.
    they could have made it a true love story about a supermodel that broke her pelvis, clung on to a log for a day only to find out her photographer boyfriend didnt make it or alternatively they could have made it about the oscar winning millionaire director that finds out his children and grandchildren died in the tsunami, but they didn't. if you sometimes want to make people pay attention you need to get people to have empathy. so make it about someone you can empathise with.

  • zdrav

    I guess that's why White people hated "The Lion King" so much, right? How the hell can these Euro-Americans be expected to relate to
    Afro-Felines?!

    Or perhaps you are implying that some White people more readily identify with animals than with non-White people. Somehow, I wouldn't be too shocked if that were actually true among a small segment of the deluded population.

  • Camel

    Wow. All I can express in response to this are a million ups to Holly's comment, along with complete and utter confusion at Theunis seeming to believe that only white people watch movies. Do people of color not exist in his/her world view, or do they just not go to the theater?

  • zdrav

    A lot of these apologist types will first claim that movies are in it to make money, and that you can't make money (at least in the West) if you don't make it about White people (and White men, to be more precise).

    A logical person will then bring up that it's not only morally reprehensible to be only empathetic towards people of your own race, but that it's also bad business b/c non-White movies can actually do well ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Think Like a Man", "Fast Five", etc.), then the apologist will start shifting uncomfortably and abandon all pretense of principles or economics, and just say that White filmmakers and White studio execs have the right to make White-centric movies so long as White people have the most power in society.

    So in the end, the apologist is exposed for what he truly wants: to see himself and his tribe portrayed sympathetically and glowingly all over the world at everybody else's expense.

  • Holly

    If you can't be moved by someone loosing everything in fucking tsunami because you don't share the same skin tone you're not really capable of empathy.

  • kirbyjay

    Nicely done Holly

  • kirbyjay

    One family's story, doesn't matter what color they are. I will see this because it's a real love story.

    I do take exception to our reviewer's assertion that parenthood strips you of your humanity in small increments. It may strip your individuality, but not your humanity. On the contrary it fills you with it when you have children, Love, emotion, worry, protectiveness, anger, pride....humanity at it's core.

    I always told my kids when they were swimming in the ocean not to go too far out because if they were attacked by a shark, I would have to swim out and fight it off, not something I looked forward to, but would do without thought, And I am a lousy swimmer and kind of afraid of sharks.

  • Dredd

    That is a Bright Eyes reference in the header, yes?

  • I was really expecting an evisceration for this one. Huh. Doesn't make me want to see it but I really thought Pajiba was going to bring out the scathing on The Impossible.

  • Rooks

    Scathing? Look no further! Voilà - the comment section.

  • POINGjam

    White people? That changes everything!

  • ChainedVase

    It's so heart warming when white people live happily ever after and get to leave behind the devastation of thousands of people who are homeless, orphaned or injured.

  • Robert

    But they help some of those other [white] people who are stuck there longer then they are. That makes all the difference!

    It's why Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was so inspiring. That nice little white boy from Manhattan helped all those people from the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn have closure after 9/11.

  • jjanne

    Seriously! I swear if they made a movie about Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans would be 95% white.

  • zdrav

    Except for the morbidly-obese, jazz-talkin' gumbo chef who brightens up the White protagonist's day. And don't forget Zoe Saldana, who'll play the thankless role of being the White protagonist's love interest. You see, Hollywood loves racial inclusion, as long as it's White men getting with hot minority women.

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