The Impossible is breathtaking
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland. Rated 14A.
Some of us may weep watching The Impossible. That doesn’t mean we’re babies. Okay, maybe it does, but it’s weeping that comes from feeling so intensely connected to the people on-screen and entangled in their experience. Oh, and when the wave hits, you may stop breathing for an hour or two.
Upwards of 300,000 people died in the 2004 tsunami that struck Indonesia, but director Juan Antonio Bayona (who made gothic spooker The Orphanage) is intent on one true story: that of a Spanish family with colossally bad vacation timing. It’s a disaster movie enveloping an exquisitely intimate survival struggle. You couldn’t feel the psychic and physical assault more if it was in 3-D. Oh, 3-D: that would have been classy.
The original Spaniards are now Brits; Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, parents to three young boys. Everything is magically idyllic at a Thai resort and then it isn’t. There’s a moment of quiet menace and then the wave. Holy shit. Then we’re plunged into hideous, surging chaos with Watts and Tom Holland, playing oldest son Lucas. Stop! But don’t.
Bayona excels at showing human fragility at the mercy of nature. It’s unbearably visceral watching Watts and Holland in the brutal debris swirl, with underwater views of bodies propelled into cars and trees, metal and wood. Cue traumatized weeping.
The suspense is in the family’s ferocious determination to reunite. McGregor has his own agonizing path, but Watts and Holland own this. Both are profoundly present and so are we. Maria, in shock, doesn’t initially feel her gaping leg wound. We do. And we feel fear, exhaustion, rabid survival instincts, and a mother and son’s quietly wrenching love. And, when the camera moves overhead, vast destruction, rows of body bags—and a beautiful, calm sea.