An 'Impossible' movie
By Wen Shin Kuo, The China Post“The Impossible,” based on the devastating true account of a Spanish family's survival of the 2004 tsunami, is an emotionally draining cinematic onslaught. Director Juan Antonio Bayona, known for his bloodcurdling 2007 physiological thriller “The Orphanage,” grips you by the neck and hurls you right into the midst of the calamity.
February 1, 2013, 3:19 pm TWN
The intense opening sequence of pitch-black darkness and unrecognizable rumblings is shattered as a Boeing 747 crashes through the screen. One montage melts into the next. Though the film shows off the peaceful, crystal clear waters and exquisite horizons of the family's picturesque holiday paradise, it is directed in a way that stews in eeriness. The audience is left uneasy, anxious, almost frightened. We, the audience, all know the tsunami will hit and it is through this knowledge that Bayona crafts ever-mounting tension. Cleanly juxtaposing the characters' sunny ignorance with the audience's historical memory.
Summarized in a word, the movie is strong. Each scene is richly shot and from the beginning audiences are left wide-eyed and biting their nails. The mixture of fast-paced, cacophonous action punctuated with sudden, serene silence brilliantly establishes the random horror of a natural disaster. Very much like the reality of the tsunami, there is no warning or no tantalizing buildup, making the film even more harrowingly real.
One of the film's masterstrokes is its sound effects. Diegetic sounds — those noises restricted to a particular character's perspective — are cleverly used as characters are submerged and trapped under the turbulent waters. Bayona creates a cinematic tsunami where you experience as the characters must — the limited vantage, the suffocating noise, the mud broth and the shattered wood and the distended power lines. As Maria (Naomi Watts) resurfaces after the wave, violently battered, screaming and with her thigh gouged into a flap of barely intact flesh, her agony is palpable.
With all of the bloody wounds, disfigured carcasses and discolored, face-down corpses, Bayona is certainly not shy in portraying the horrifying aftermath of the tsunami.
As the story developed, I appreciated that the audience was not spoon-fed. There is no unnecessary dialogue, and through subtle implications, the audience learns of the family's history and the progression of the disaster.
One of the most haunting and memorable scenes is the violent contrast of the beautiful starlit sky against the demolished beaches below and the dim glow of a scarlet sun that warms the shores filled with debris and dead bodies.
Naomi Watts, playing Maria, and Ewan Mcgregor, playing Henry, deliver unparalleled performances. The young Tom Holland's performance as Lucas is impressive. We see him grow up much faster than he should.
What's worth remembering is that an estimated 282,000 people died from the tsunami. Of that horrifying number, only approximately 1,000 were Europeans. Some commentators have said that in “The Impossible” one starts to feel that we're watching rich white tourists receive the medical aid they're “naturally entitled to” from the locals. There is little to nothing shown of what happened to the lives uprooted and lives lost of the hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians. However, it is arguably Bayona's choice to tell the story from the European perspective, which he is perfectly entitled to.
“The Impossible” more than earns its four out of five stars, but fails to achieve a perfect score due to its exploitation of emotions in its final quarter. The orchestral score becomes too overwhelming and sequences start to hit one too many clichés; it's clear to see that, in the end, it is merely endeavoring to collect as many tears as possible. ■
'The Impossible' (浩劫奇蹟) ► Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona / With Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland / Drama, Thriller / 2012 / Spain / 114 min. / English with Chinese subtitles / Now Showing / ★★★★☆