Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Impossible

A disaster movie that focuses on ordinary, complex characters without computerized effects

     The recreation of the tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004 is the most frightening sequence in a movie this year.  Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who made the eerie and poignant The Orphanage in 2007, it’s the true story of one tourist family in the midst of that disaster.  A tank and
miniatures were used and these were wise choices because there is an immediacy that made me feel like I was turned to stone while watching the first wave hit.  What’s the best response?  Stand, sit, jump in the resort swimming pool, or freeze?

The Family Celebrating Christmas Eve
     A couple of subjects need to be addressed that others have raised.  Yes, the original family was Spanish and here it’s Scottish (Ewan McGregor as the father) and Australian, maybe British (Naomi Watts as the mother).  On a cynical level, this change in nationality could be so that it would play more easily in English-speaking countries.  However, taking Bayona at his word, the change also makes it seem like it goes beyond national boundaries.  The setting is a new resort in Thailand so when the tsunami hits, the focus is on assisting the tourists.  We don’t see what happened to many of the Thai because the family didn’t.  From my knowledge and my family’s (my aunt taught in Thailand a few years ago), the Thai are one of the friendliest and most gracious people on earth so, of course, they would provide the greatest help possible to victims, regardless of national origin.  

Ewan McGregor and Two of the Sons
     Ewan McGregor is a good choice as the father because he’s a technically accomplished actor who does not have star charisma.  Naomi Watts does, but it’s sublimated here because her character is wounded severely and is almost close to death for part of the story.  Tom Holland
Tom Holland as the Eldest Son
is wonderful as the eldest son and he looks like a middle-class English 12 year old so his heroics are even more remarkable.  The casting directors of this movie and Beasts of the Southern Wild deserve accolades for finding such terrific, natural children for such physically and emotionally demanding roles.  Bayona continually pulls away from this family’s story to see them in context and it’s as if he’s regarding an anthill.  The actors have to come across as ordinary and they do.  Geraldine Chaplin makes the most of her cameo as a wise old woman and she’s both exotic and earth-bound.  (Chaplin was a big European star – especially in Spain – during the ‘70s so Bayona earns this one sequence that pulls away from his overall view of one story among so many during something so enormous).

     There are two amazing elements about the movie.  The first is what an unbelievably competent job the Thai people did in addressing the disaster and caring for the victims.  (Our response to Katrina looks even more amateurish in retrospect).  The two American characters behave with consummate selfishness.  The other sequence where I held my breath was when we saw just what the mother went through from the moment the wave hit until she was able to surface.  That she survived was a miracle, but among many others when everything about those days is examined.

I can only imagine what I would have looked like in that situation.

No comments: