The Impossible (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Impossible (2012)

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Another sign of a happy endingAndrew LIKE BannerA few months ago Ryan and I had a conversation about the trailer for The Impossible.  At first glance the film looked to be something that Ryan would barely be able to stomach and what I thought was just another round of horrific devastation interrupting an attractive white families vacation.  I still hold that the trailer gives this impression, but for the film itself I was as wrong as any critic can possibly be.

This is the survival story I have waited for.  There are no reassuring hugs or soaring strings with characters flashing pristine smiles despite the wreckage that surrounds them.  The Impossible is pure and brutal survival centering on a family that is tough and duplicitous enough to keep on.  It is one of the only honest movies about a true catastrophe that I have ever seen.  There is no easy escape and not even any bottled water if these characters manage to survive.

Many times the images in The Impossible conjure up the idea of the sublime - existence so beautiful is can only crush the people who choose to live in it.

Many times the images in The Impossible conjure up the idea of the sublime - existence so beautiful is can only crush the people who choose to live in it.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona sets up what is to come through a series of beautiful and simple images.  The Bennet family, Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor), Lucas (Tom Holland), Tomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), are on Christmas holiday in Thailand.  We know that the tsunami is coming and Bayona, in a beautiful counterpoint to the devastating scenes to come, assembles the family to float those lighted air bags up into the night sky.  The camera lingers as one by one they disappear into the horizon, as each person - despite their standing - has an equal chance to fade into the night.  It's an image that Bayona returns to in the families darkest moments to great effect as the comfort of the resort, the reminder of once solid structures, or even seeing other survivors just reminds them how easily they can slip off into the sky.

The next day when the tsunami strikes Bayona presents the most confusing and brutal of disaster scenes.  It is presented with the bare clues of context.  Yes, we get the subtly creepy warning as the electricity cuts off and Maria goes off to grab a paper that's floated away, but it's all terrifying sensory experiences from this point out.  Against darkness she hears that she is drowning before she's able to respond, lungs gurgling and muscles crying out in that wet and stringy flops against the water, before she can finally open her eyes and see nothing but blood and debris.  Then, in a series of harrowing reversals, she sees her oldest son Lucas and goes to save him, but she gets caught and needs his help, then he floats off and she is the rescuer again.  On and on until they finally find a way to stand and neither are safe.

These moments are draining.  I cringed, cried, shook in my seat, and could not guess what they had to do next to survive.  Bayona spares no effect on their bodies either, with Lucas noticing as soon as they are out of the water that there is a large chunk of his mother missing from her legs, and she who knows of the gash across her breast and still manages to think that her exposed body is making it worse on him.  In a way it is, Lucas is on the cusp of adolescence and is the only reason that his mom could survive this, and is forced to take on adult responsibilities well before his time.  Their scenes are easily the best in the film, equal parts thematically resonant and physically pulverizing.

Simple, plausible, and downright eerie images foreshadow what's about to happen.

Simple, plausible, and downright eerie images foreshadow what's about to happen.

What that the other parts of the film were this good, but if they were I might not have the energy to write now.  The other part deals with Henry's tale of survival and trying to find the remaining children, which is not nearly as dramatic, violent, or effective as Maria's.  Still, there are many surprises with Henry's journey that I would like you to discover, if only for the simple fact that this film reminds us that to survive a true catastrophe the rules of behaving like a good person change drastically.  I fully support what Henry does because I would like to think I could do the same.

There is so much to love about The Impossible that I can only list a few more lest I go on for too long.  I love that Bayona did not cut between the two stories because that would still give the audience comfort that both are surviving.  I love that he treated the indigenous population not as a mythical problem solving other but another group of terrified people who are also trying to find a way to survive.  I love his frequent and direct approach at forcing us into the characters minds through the soundtrack.  I love that this film is utterly without fantasy and reminds us every step of the way that we probably don't have what it takes to live through what we see the Bennet's go through.  I love the shot of a split and rapidly decaying corpse of a dog that almost instantly answered any preemptive concern I had about this being an unrealistic fantasy.

And I must save one last note of applause for Tom Holland.  He has an exhausting, physically demanding, and psychologically complex role that has no easy conclusion.  Someone so fresh into his teens has already done an amazing job in a role that a dozen lifetimes would not be able to prepare him for.

The Impossible is stellar film-making of the highest pedigree.  Please experience it as soon as you can.

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Tail - The ImpossibleThe Impossible (2012)

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
Screenplay written by Sergio G. Sanchez.
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland.

Posted by Andrew

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