Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: The Impossible

There are few things as absolutely mind-blowing as seeing nature at full fury against what mankind has establish-

You know what?  That sentence is completely wrong.

There are few things as absolutely mind-blowing as the fact that nature doesn't care about what mankind builds, and will simply steamroll right over us at times because it needs to shift a tectonic plate slightly or release some pressure under a mountain.  Much like how you don't notice that small cluster of ants you tread over while jogging or think about all the bacteria, both beneficial and harmful, that you might wash off of a dish, we're barely a speck in nature's grand vision.

And when a natural disaster occurs, it's one of the few things that lets you think about both how precious life is as well as the fact that in the grand scheme of how the universe works, the universe really doesn't seem to care about us.

Over the weekend I watched The Impossible, probably one of the more powerful movies I've seen in recent years, and it simply reaffirmed in my mind the fact that when a disaster occurs, all you can really try to do is be one of the lucky few to emerge from it.

Watching a wave sweep across a beach and take out everything in its path, whether it's trees, buildings, or people, is quite possibly one of the strongest visual reminders of just how powerful nature is.  You can't see wind, you can only see the objects moved around by it.  You can't "see" an earthquake, just how buildings and bridges react to the vibrations.  However, watching a literal physical wall of force pushing things along is undeniable.

The story takes place Christmas 2004, as a family enjoys its time in Khao Lak, Thailand.  The mother, father, and their three children discuss the typical things families do, such as whether the mother should return to work, the older son's distancing himself from his "little kid" siblings, and other standard family issues, when disaster strikes.

The 2004 earthquake and tsunami claimed anywhere from 230 to 280 thousand lives and caused billions of dollars in damage outside of the loss of life.  Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.  Entire cities were wiped from the map and afterward looked like what would happen if a child kicked over a village built out of Legos and then dumped a full box of toothpicks on top of it.  And then dumped several gallons of mud and water on top.

The family gets split into two groups, the mother (played by Naomi Watts) and oldest son being swept away inland while the father and other two children manage to stay close to the resort.  It is simply pure chance that any of them are able to find each other, and there's an extremely harrowing scene where the mother is clinging to a tree before seeing her son go by, and she lets go to pursue him.  The two then struggle to reach each other, each one having an opportunity to save themselves but instead letting go to try to stay together.

Neither side knows that the other has survived, though there are varying levels of hope among them.  The father, played by Ewan McGregor in a role that made me completely forget that he used to be a Jedi, searches every day for his wife and son amid the debris, refusing to give up hope.   Their oldest son seems convinced that he and his mother were the only survivors from their family, and due to injuries his mother suffered (which appear more painful and realistic than any violent movie I've seen in years) he might soon be the only survivor.

I'm not sure where the movie was filmed, how much of it was green screen and CGI, and how much they built elaborate sets for, but as someone who frequently likes to look at movie backgrounds and think to myself "that's so fake," I can tell you that it didn't occur to me once to try and do that.  The widespread devastation after the tsunami hits keeps your attention as you watch these people struggle, and the signs of the lives of other people who may or may not be alive any longer are harrowing.  Your brain simply doesn't want to try to strip any of it apart, because it recognizes the severity of what you're watching and just how much larger a scale the entire thing was.

The acting, as I indicated before, is superb, and there wasn't a single character who I felt was wasted or took away from the impact of the film.  A lost child found amidst the debris who joins one family, a father at a hospital desperately trying to locate his son, another man trying to cling to the idea that his wife and daughter might have survived despite being at the beach when the wave hit, each character has their own story, and each one could easily be made into a movie of its own.  This is in addition to the sheer number of other people, whether it's some of the Thai natives who attempt to aid the mother and son, a grandmother who befriends the other two children, or the countless numbers of other people clinging to life in the hospital, whether simply in shock, grieving the loss of their loved ones, or clinging to life.

I have to give a special nod to Naomi Watts, who I feel truly earned every award nomination she received that year.  I have not seen a character so desperate to hold what she has left together despite what she goes through.  Any movie that attempts to make a "horror" style film about a person being brutalized, torn apart by the environment around her, and struggling to cling to life could take a lesson from this film (though I rather it wouldn't), as each moment of her suffering feels true.  There's a scene involving Naomi Watts in the hospital where the amount of water she inhaled, the internal bleeding, and the debris she swallowed all culminates in a moment that would be where any number of horror movie characters would simply die, except that this seems to have more of an impact as you're almost positive it's supposed to be a happy-esque ending but you aren't sure if it means everybody survives or not.

There are a lot of those moments in the film, when you feel resigned to the fact that while the film may not be a "total downer" as I heard one person describe such films in the past, the impact of what's going on doesn't let you quite believe the ending could be "happy."

Which is why I guess the title The Impossible really is perfect for the film.  Even when you know that what's happening and is about to happen is based on the true story of this family, the idea of it is difficult for the mind to accept.  With so many people dead and dying, how could one family manage to come out of it together?

It's a movie that gave me goosebumps even when I saw where the next plot twist was going, and considering my usual movie habit is to glance at other people during important scenes to see how they react, my eyes weren't able to look away from the film once unless it was to wet my mouth that dried out during watching.

I realize such a movie isn't for everybody, but I do recommend everybody watch it, even if just to get a sampling of the sheer scope of what such an event can mean, and to appreciate the fact that many of us won't have to live through such an event.

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

I felt emotional watching this. I could watch the second time and yet still crying!