Tuesday, December 10, 2013

DVD Movie: The Impossible

On Sunday, December 26, 2004, countries bordering the Indian Ocean experienced one of the deadliest natural disasters, an enormous tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.1 earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean. Over 230,000 people died in fourteen countries from the tsunami which produced waves approximately 100 feet high. Most of the dead, injured and missing were locals from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. These countries are also popular tourist destinations for Westerners, who enjoy vacationing at resorts in Indonesian and Thailand over Christmas. As a result many tourists also lost their lives, with most families losing at least one member. But for the Belon Alvarez family from Spain, the impossible happened - the entire family survived against all odds. The Impossible tells their story.

Maria Belon Alvarez and her family consisting of her husband Quique (Enrique) Alvarez and their three sons, Lucas 10, Tomas 8 and Simon 5, had only just arrived at the resort in Khao Lak, Thailand on Christmas Eve. On the morning of December 26, the family was lounging at the resort's pool when Maria heard a thunderous noise that she could not identify. Instantly she and her family were swept away, through the churning waters filled with debris and bodies. Maria and her son Lucas managed to find each other quickly and cling to a tree. Maria had serious injuries including a terrible chest wound and a more serious deep wound to her leg. They took refuge in a large tree but Maria could feel her life ebbing away. Eventually they were found by a Thai man who dragged Maria through the swampy area to a village and then made sure she was taken to a hospital. Lucas was certain he would not have survived if he had not jumped into the resort pool as the wave hit.

Meanwhile her husband, Quique had lost his grip on the two boys, Tomas and Simon. However, he found both boys clinging to trees. Determined to find Maria and Lucas, Quique left Tomas and Simon with adults at the hotel and limped through dozens of hospitals and camps before finally locating Maria and Lucas at Takua Pa Hospital. Eventually the family made its way to Singapore where Maria was treated further for her serious injuries.

The Impossible accurately portrays their experiences during and after the tsunami, switching out the nationality of the family to that of a British family and changing their names to Maria and Henry Bennett. Maria Belon was intimately involved in the process of making the movie, choosing her favourite actress, Naomi Watts to portray her and working on location in Thailand where the movie was filmed to ensure their story was faithfully retold.

Central to The Impossible is a story that is both overwhelming and unbelievable. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor give solid performances as Maria and Henry Bennett, in shock, disoriented, wounded and yet struggling to save their children and to process the magnitude of what has just happened to them. Maria who was a doctor, knew her life was in danger and feared that she would die leaving Lucas alone. Lucas played by Tom Holland, knew he needed to be strong, to encourage his critically injured mother to survive.

Although the scenes portraying the tsunami seem incredibly realistic, they are obviously nowhere near what survivors and victims encountered. Yet likely due to Maria Belon's presence during filming, small details are present in the movie that survivor accounts mention; the flight of birds away from the seashore, a sudden unexplained wind and the screams of people in the water. Even the water, turbulent, brown and filled with deadly debris of all kinds was accurately portrayed. This was best demonstrated by the flashback Maria has during surgery, showing her being battered by all manner of debris, tree branches, broken chairs, glass and objects that can't be identified. It's easy to understand how so many people died not just from drowning but also from terrible injuries due to the debris. Most people who ended up in the water did not remain clothed as Maria and Lucas were; the force of the waves simply ripped away all clothing. The movie does hint at this when Lucas is traveling with his mother to a hospital and he sees a completely stark naked man, dazed, walking by the side of the road. If you are interested in how the tsunami scenes were filmed check out this article from fx Guide, "Making The Impossible".

The Impossible also captures the state of confusion in hospitals and make-shift camps which are quickly overwhelmed with injured survivors and people searching for lost family and friends. In some places the water traveled up to 2 kilometers inland, devastating villages and crops. Yet desp

ite the horror of what happened, despite having lost everything they owned, as the movie shows, the Thai people selflessly helped tourists, seeing that they were brought to hospitals to be treated. Maria experienced this, when she was dragged through the mud by a Thai man who ensured she was transported to hospital. The movie also portrays the patience and kindness of the Thai people in coping with a disaster of gigantic proportions in a country lacking the resources and infrastructure to do so.

The Impossible was criticized for whitewashing - that is taking Third World tragedy in which the majority of people who were affected were brown people, Indonesian and Thai - and making a movie about a white family who eventually returned home to their lives in Spain without having to deal with the lasting devastation. However, this movie is about a unique story - a family,  which against enormous odds, everyone survived - the impossible. It tells one family's story and that is all. It does not minimize the impact the tsunami had on the local population nor does it trivialize their suffering. There are scenes where we see dead Thai people and a truckload of children most of whom are Thai. We see the devastated countryside and villages.

Be prepared for a movie that packs an emotional punch unlike many of the disaster films that have preceded this one. Though one family is the focus here, the emotional, economic and human costs of the 2004 tsunami tragedy are evident even in the last shots as the family flies out of Thailand to Singapore. The Impossible was directed by Juan Antonio Boyona. As an interesting aside, the producers decided to make this film after hearing Maria Belon speak about her family's experiences on Spanish radio. If you missed this movie in theatres, it's time to watch it on DVD.

Here's the movie trailer:

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