The New Yorker opined that watching the new film THE IMPOSSIBLE was almost impossible. For once, I agree with one of their critics. THE IMPOSSIBLE recounts the incredible tsunami that took over 230,000 lives in Southeast Asia in 2004 and its aftermath through the lives of one family. Directed by Spanish director J.A. Bayona, this film concentrates on the Bennett family as they attempt to survive the disaster. Based on a true events, the screenplay has taken a Spanish family's experience and given it universal appeal in the Bennetts whose nationality is not disclosed.
On that fateful Boxing Day, Maria Belon watched her husband Quique Alvarez and their three sons swept away with trees, cars, and even destroyed buildings. After several days of extreme suffering, the family was finally reunited at a field hospital where Maria had been brought by Thai volunteers. These events are imagined in harrowing detail in the film. Naomi Watts plays Maria Bennett, a doctor, and Ewan MacGregor is her husband Henry. After the initial wave, Maria and her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) cling to trees, endure yet another massive wave, and are eventually aided by Thai citizens who themselves are suffering the effects and losses of the storm. By this time Maria's wounds are so severe her life hangs in the balance.
Back at their wrecked hotel Henry believes that all of his family is gone until he discovers his two youngest sons nearby. He makes the difficult decision to put the boys on a refugee truck while he stays to search for his wife. Interweaving these two stories, the director creates considerable suspense as well as empathy for the family members and for other survivors. The physicality of their suffering and striving to survive is rendered in graphic detail. However, the emotional upheaval is what makes this film so difficult to watch. That comes primarily from two sources. First, the director chooses to include scenes with other desperate victims suffering or searching for loved ones. Second, he has chosen almost perfect actors for the Bennetts. They are all memorable, but young Tom Holland as Lucas carries the dramatic heft of the film. He literally becomes a man in seeing his wounded mother through this crisis. Holland's expressions of despair and hope are so painful to watch that the viewer is tempted to turn away weeping. This is one of the finest juvenile performances I have ever seen, and it recalls a similar amazing performance, that of a twelve year old Christian Bale in Spielberg's EMPIRE OF THE SUN (1987), where he played a young Brit who is forced to survive for years in a Japanese concentration camp.
THE IMPOSSIBLE is a film that encompasses heroism, tragedy, and family love. So it's difficult to watch? Yes, but also moving and eventually transforming. SEE IT.