Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
The Grade: C
While I was watching The Impossible, the true story of a family’s survival against the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2008, my mind kept lingering on the 2010 Danny Boyle film 127 Hours. While both films chronicle true tales of unlikely survival, they are almost nothing alike. And thinking about that was what made me realize The Impossible should have been far better than it was.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as an affluent British family with three young boys vacationing in Thailand when the tsunami hits. And what follows is how they survived and found each other again. Had I never seen 127 Hours, it’s likely I would have liked The Impossible much more. And it’s not because the latter steals from the former. Quite the opposite. 127 Hours is a movie that exists in the mind, and it’s a story of human perseverance and refusal to accept death as an inevitability. The Impossible isn’t really any of those things. I suppose the characters persevere, but their survival and finding of one another is more luck than anything else. We don’t see any of them make difficult choices or do difficult things, aside from the mother sticking out a gruesome leg injury.
And that’s a very frustrating thing about The Impossible, that the impossibility of it all only comes down to luck, and not to any sort of human action. While it’s certainly wonderful and heart-warming that this family all survived and found one another, it never feels inspiring. And inspiration is the most important ingredient for this type of story, one that 127 Hours had in spades.
And were that the only problem with the film, I would still mostly recommend it. But I can’t recall a time I was left with a worse taste in my mouth by a film’s final moments. Spoiler that doesn’t really spoil anything: the family’s survival is made (I suppose) more official when their insurance company flies them on a private jet from Thailand to Singapore, where they can receive better medical treatment. So in the final moments of the film we see this family of five good looking white people shuffle past hundreds of critically injured Asians and get on a huge jet, where every other seat is empty, and fly off into the sunset. Roll credits. All I could think about leaving the theater was “Oh, so the best way to survive one of the most devastating natural disasters in recorded history is to be rich and white. Good to know.”
Had they gotten on a small helicopter, I wouldn’t have been bothered so much, but the film went to great lengths to show us the following: 1) How overcrowded and inadequate the Thai hospitals were, 2) How many critically injured people were in those hospitals, and 3) How the huge plane they got on didn’t have a single other person on it!! Why couldn’t they have taken others with them to Singapore for all this great medical treatment? Why did the film have to go out of its way to show the family walking past so many other injured (non-white) people to get on the plane? Couldn’t that shot have been left out? Did it really not occur to anyone how it would look on screen?
In all fairness, The Impossible isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s a lot to praise here, particularly Watts’ physically demanding performance and the production design/visual effects team that amazingly recreated the tsunami and its devastation. And it is a good story that’s being told. But it’s just told in a way that never reaches a real emotional crescendo, and leaves a wretched taste in the mouths of anyone sensitive to socio-economic disparities. My advice to anyone that sees this film: Just walk out once the family gets reunited. Nothing more to see here.