' ' Cinema Romantico: The Impossible

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Impossible

It seems almost perverse to discuss "The Impossible" strictly in terms of its identity as a movie. It is, after all, as the film reinforces by allowing the words "true story" to out-linger all the other words in the opening title cards, based on fact. It is culled from the real life story of Maria Belón and her husband Enrique Alvarez and their three boys on Christmas vacation in Khao Lak, Thailand when the monstrous Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 invaded. They were swept away, swept apart and, eventually, re-united, which I hope is not a spoiler since all five of them attended the film's premiere.

Rest assured, though, "The Impossible" is a movie, through and through, opening with the family - re-named Bennett - aboard an airliner as it descends into Kaho Lak as it hurls set-up after set-up after us in such a calculating manner you can already see the payoffs developing further on up the road. Maria (Naomi Watts) has a fear of flying but fights through it. Middle son Tomas (Samuel Joslin), seven-and-a-half, is a fraidy cat. Oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), twelve years old, is tired of his brother being a fraidy cat and indifferent to his mother's fear. So on and so forth.

Even after the monstrous tidal waves hit, in an impressive if disturbing mounting of special effects, ably capturing the eerie lead-up and then the disorienting terror of its onslaught, the film dutifully hits every beat to tug heartstrings and invoke tears. Why the climactic moment in which the three sons and the father, Henry (Ewan McGregor), all come together at once is simply "Argo"-esque in the way it stages its suspenseful near-misses.

"The Impossible", though, does not deserve to be discussed this way. I don't mean to imply it is a masterpiece of the medium, merely the sort of statement on the human existence that transcends set-ups and payoffs and story beats. There was and will be talk of how it "whitewashes" history, which bears some validity, but also ignores the fact that this film must be judged by this story and nothing else. Open and shut.

Mother nature is the true proprietor of this planet, of course, and if we forget she damn sure will remind us. She reminded us with the Indian Ocean Tsunami, she reminded us with the tornadoes that hit Oklahoma City not once but twice (in the words of "Daily Show"-era Steve Carell: "Sometimes God just likes to be a dick"), she will remind us again. Our petty concerns - our inability to have the can of cola in the fridge, our worries over our job security, which is referenced by Henry right before the wave - is no match for an undersea megathrust earthquake.

But...... Human beings are pretty fucking resilient, aren't they? We squabble and stress and do nothing while whining about everything and then something cataclysmic happens and somehow, some way we ante up and fight back. Maria, with a wound on the back of her leg so gaping and grotesque it made me just spontaneously combust into tears, somehow, some way manages to press on for the sake of her son and even convince her son to help rescue someone else's son. Henry, somehow, some way, in the face of the incomprehensible, carries on, swearing that he will find his wife and oldest son and then, by God, finding them. A native who does not speak Maria's language somehow, some way drags this terribly wounded woman through muck and mire and to a truck that takes her to a hospital and then takes her in and directs her where to go and then just turns and ambles away as if nothing all that incredible had just happened.

It was incredible! This is all incredible! And the film does not demean the innumerable others not as gaspingly fortunate as Maria Belón and her family. As Henry sends his two young sons to safety and goes off in the search for Maria and Lucas, he is joined by a German man, Karl (Sönke Möhring), trying to find his own wife and daughter. As he watches from the bed of a truck that has been hauling them around in their quest, Karl sees Henry re-unite with his family. He smiles, genuinely happy for his newfound friend he will likely never see again, and then he tells the driver of the truck to get going.

Sadness and awfulness surrounds everyone everywhere they look but, for a moment, Karl lets himself linger in that moment of joy. Then, he picks himself and goes on. I have no idea how people go on sometimes and "The Impossible" does not pretend to know how either - it just knows that they do.


Wretched Genius said...

I very much enjoyed this film, but I felt it was perhaps a misstep to show Watts' extremely harrowing story first, then follow it with McGregor's less-compelling (though still good in its own right) search. I realize it's the natural chronology, but I still feel some suspense could have been added by seeing how hard McGregor was searching, then showing Watts deteriorating so fast that she might die before she's ever found.

Also, Watts earned the Hell out of her Oscar nomination. The little moment when her bloody, shredded blouse slips down and revels her (again, bloody) breast, and she has an ever-so-slight look of embarrassment as she pulls her blouse back up to cover herself in front of her son (who has just noticed that a large part of her calf muscle is missing) is amazing.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review here. You know, the more I think about this one, the more I like it. I love the kicker to your review... I couldn't agree more. In addition to that, every actor here was really on point. Watts is a killer.

Nick Prigge said...

Brad: That's an interesting idea. I mean, even if you do know they all survive that does still work a little better dramatically.

Alex: Agreed. After the Oscars I tweeted something about how I hope that Naomi Watts knows that eventually her day to hold the statue will come. It's inevitable.