The Impossible, the sea, and loss of control

The Impossible is a terrifying film, beautifully imagined, and quite difficult to watch.

theimpossileThe film tells the story of the Bennet family, vacationing in Thailand when the tsunami hit in 2004. I suppose in a manner the film could be dubbed a “disaster movie,” of the kind popularized by lesser achievements, but such does not capture a film like The Impossible.

Performed admirably–Tom Holland as Lucas is particularly brilliant–The Impossible takes a script which is at times heavy-handed and obvious, as “true stories” often are, and makes an emotionally rich experience that looks simply stunning. I don’t know how they filmed the wave scenes, particularly the final one, but they are breathtaking.

This is the great achievement of The Impossible: the confounding ability to combine wave scenes of nearly unwatchable terror with such beautifully photographed and constructed images of nature red in tooth and claw. What separates The Impossible from the disaster movie genre is the objective eye the filmmakers embrace on the great power of a tsunami. This disaster is not an exploit to be overcome or outraced, but simply to be endured, and if possible, survived.

The Impossible, in my mind, has more in common with Moby Dick than with The Poseidon Adventure. It is Moby Dick in reverse. The capacity for destruction that is maintained by the physical world is simply beyond the human ability to comprehend. Ahab is confronted with this realization (if ever) at the end, when the whale does what whales do, with no regard for humans and their madness.  The sea rolls on, without regard, as it always has.

So is it in The Impossible. The waves roll in, and then are gone. As always must be so. What I loved about the film is that this knowledge is where The Impossible opens. The unstoppable power of the natural world is not the lesson but the beginning, and the question asked is not: can nature be overcome, but rather, what do you do now?

The Bennet family, faced with the questions of unimaginable consequence, can either look to the reality before them, or not. Surviving the waves is out of your hands. If you do, what then? It is a vision of the world that makes for exciting cinema, more than capable of making up for its missed emotional moments. As Naomi Watts tumbles beneath the water, her life completely and literally beyond her control, we sit in wonder, beholding the beauty and terror of the world, and we ask: what can be done against forces like this? What can you do but pick up your bloodied body and keep on, for the sake of one’s family?


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