Swept away by The Impossible
Watching The Impossible, I thought to myself: “I’ve seen this before”.
Technically I knew I hadn’t since the movie just had opened the other night. But the images were so familiar that it felt as a revisit to a place where I had spent a lot of time. The shattered hotels, the flooded area with cars and trees and rooftops floating in it. Row after row of bags, each one with a heartbreaking content, affecting many peoples’ lives. Survivors getting increasingly desperate with every day that passed, searching for their loved once among bodies in decay.
I had seen this movie before as it played on TV over the months that followed on the tsunami in 2004, countless of times.
The Swedish experience
Thailand was – and still is – a hugely popular tourist destination in Sweden. Compared to its population, Sweden was one of the most affected tourist countries in the catastrophe with 554 deaths. During the first confused days the estimated number was ten times higher and obviously this threw the entire nation in a shock. Everyone knew someone who had been directly or indirectly affected. My husband, who is a teacher, had several pupils who were spending Christmas in Thailand and it took a long time before we knew their whereabouts.
The media coverage was enormous, news broadcasting more or less 24/7 during the first days. Mostly we watched the same few sequences, over and over again. Five times. Ten times. A hundred times. We were as hypnotized as we tried to grasp what just had happened and understand what the people on spot had gone through. Some of the survivors became familiar faces after occurring in media so many times. Like characters in a documentary series, only so much darker. The man who lost his whole family and kept searching for weeks and months for his wife and kids reminded me a lot of the characters in The Impossible.
I hadn’t thought about the tsunami for a few years, but as I watched The Impossible everything came back to me, the way I remembered it from TV, only a bit closer, reaching under my skin. Tears welled up in my eyes as the family was tore apart when the first wave hit. I was completely swept away by it and experienced their horror and pain as if it had been my own.
The focus is on the situation of the individuals, particularly the children, who experience things that force them to grow up way too early in their lives. They’re in a constant state of chaos and confusion, emphasised by a camera that basically never stops shaking.
The movie is at its best when it leaves room for the natural sounds and silences. In the second half it goes into a mode where it’s a little bit more on the nose, as the violin score instructs me when it’s time for a good cry. While it doesn’t ruin the film to me, it seems like overkill to me: tears would have come naturally anyway.
Spanish, Indonesian or English
There has been some criticism against the film because of its focus on western tourists instead of the 130 000 Indonesians who lost their lives. I don’t share this view. This is not a documentary aiming to give the whole picture. Its perspective is the personal experience: what it was like to be there and it’s easier to make this work if the audience can identify with the people on the screen. It’s a Spanish movie. It’s unreasonable to expect a Spanish film producer to make movies about Indonesian experiences when you have a story worth telling nearby. Besides, there’s a thriving Asian film industry. If there isn’t already a tsunami movie out there told from their perspective, there might be one in the future.
I find it more bothersome that the Spanish family in the all-Spanish movie was cast with British actors rather than Spanish. As much as I loved the performances by Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and the child actor Tom Holland, it’s sad to see that the Spanish film makers felt compelled to hire English actors in order to make their movies successful abroad. It was the same thing with Buried, where Ryan Reynolds was casted to make it more appetizing to an English speaking audience. But I guess at least it has the advantage that no one will be tempted to come up with a remake.
Why I love those movies
In the end you may wonder what draws us to movies like this. Why would you voluntarily see people going through horrible things that you know have happened for real? Don’t you rather want to wind down from your job and everyday worries thinking about something nice or fun?
I think my own obsession with the genre boils down to two things. One is the eternal question what it means to be a human. Extreme situations like this will bring out new sides of people: sometimes ugly when the survival instincts kick in, sometimes altruistic with acts of love and sacrifice. I always wonder what side I would fall on, wishing to be a hero but secretly fearing that I might just stick to myself in the end.
The second reason why I love those films is that they help me to get my priorities right.
You enter the theatre annoyed by an issue with your computer, and you leave it with tears and a new spark in your eyes, grateful of what you have. Grateful of your family, grateful of your health, grateful of living in security. Grateful of being one of the winners in the lottery of life.
Grateful of being alive.
The Impossible (Lo Imposible, Juan Antonio Bayona, SP 2012) My rating: 4/5