The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Swept away by The Impossible

with 17 comments

the-impossible1Watching The Impossible, I thought to myself: “I’ve seen this before”.

Technically I knew I hadn’t since the movie just had opened the other night. But the images were so familiar that it felt as a revisit to a place where I had spent a lot of time. The shattered hotels, the flooded area with cars and trees and rooftops floating in it. Row after row of bags, each one with a heartbreaking content, affecting many peoples’ lives. Survivors getting increasingly desperate with every day that passed, searching for their loved once among bodies in decay.

I had seen this movie before as it played on TV over the months that followed on the tsunami in 2004, countless of times.

The Swedish experience
Thailand was – and still is – a hugely popular tourist destination in Sweden. Compared to its population, Sweden was one of the most affected tourist countries in the catastrophe with 554 deaths. During the first confused days the estimated number was ten times higher and obviously this threw the entire nation in a shock. Everyone knew someone who had been directly or indirectly affected. My husband, who is a teacher, had several pupils who were spending Christmas in Thailand and it took a long time before we knew their whereabouts.

The media coverage was enormous, news broadcasting more or less 24/7 during the first days. Mostly we watched the same few sequences, over and over again. Five times. Ten times. A hundred times. We were as hypnotized as we tried to grasp what just had happened and understand what the people on spot had gone through. Some of the survivors became familiar faces after occurring in media so many times. Like characters in a documentary series, only so much darker. The man who lost his whole family and kept searching for weeks and months for his wife and kids reminded me a lot of the characters in The Impossible.

Swept away
I hadn’t thought about the tsunami for a few years, but as I watched The Impossible everything came back to me, the way I remembered it from TV, only a bit closer, reaching under my skin. Tears welled up in my eyes as the family was tore apart when the first wave hit. I was completely swept away by it and experienced their horror and pain as if it had been my own.

The focus is on the situation of the individuals, particularly the children, who experience things that force them to grow up way too early in their lives. They’re in a constant state of chaos and confusion, emphasised by a camera that basically never stops shaking.

The movie is at its best when it leaves room for the natural sounds and silences. In the second half  it goes into a mode where it’s a little bit more on the nose, as the violin score instructs me when it’s time for a good cry. While it doesn’t ruin the film to me, it seems like overkill to me: tears would have come naturally anyway.

Spanish, Indonesian or English
There has been some criticism against the film because of its focus on western tourists instead of the 130 000 Indonesians who lost their lives. I don’t share this view. This is not a documentary aiming to give the whole picture. Its perspective is the personal experience: what it was like to be there and it’s easier to make this work if the audience can identify with the people on the screen. It’s a Spanish movie. It’s unreasonable to expect a Spanish film producer to make movies about Indonesian experiences when you have a story worth telling nearby. Besides, there’s a thriving Asian film industry. If there isn’t already a tsunami movie out there told from their perspective, there might be one in the future.

I find it more bothersome that the Spanish family in the all-Spanish movie was cast with British actors rather than Spanish. As much as I loved the performances by Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and the child actor Tom Holland, it’s sad to see that the Spanish film makers felt compelled to hire English actors in order to make their movies successful abroad. It was the same thing with Buried, where Ryan Reynolds was casted to make it more appetizing to an English speaking audience. But I guess at least it has the advantage that no one will be tempted to come up with a remake.

Why I love those movies
In the end you may wonder what draws us to movies like this. Why would you voluntarily see people going through horrible things that you know have happened for real? Don’t you rather want to wind down from your job and everyday worries thinking about something nice or fun?

I think my own obsession with the genre boils down to two things. One is the eternal question what it means to be a human. Extreme situations like this will bring out new sides of people: sometimes ugly when the survival instincts kick in, sometimes altruistic with acts of love and sacrifice. I always wonder what side I would fall on, wishing to be a hero but secretly fearing that I might just stick to myself in the end.

The second reason why I love those films is that they help me to get my priorities right.

You enter the theatre annoyed by an issue with your computer, and you leave it with tears and a new spark in your eyes, grateful of what you have. Grateful of your family, grateful of your health, grateful of living in security. Grateful of being one of the winners in the lottery of life.

Grateful of being alive.

The Impossible (Lo Imposible, Juan Antonio Bayona, SP 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

March 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

Posted in The Impossible

17 Responses

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  1. Great review Jessica. I was blown away by this movie and really felt for the characters. I agree that in the second half it tries to manipulate the viewer a bit too much, but I can forgive the movie for it. I didnt have an issue with the movie only focussing on the one family…just like you. This movie will probably end up in my end of year top 10 list.

    Nostra

    March 11, 2013 at 9:10 am

    • Thanks Nostra! We’re on the same page here. I think the fact that the movie focuses on one family is what makes it so strong. There’s nothing about media, organizing of rescue actions, diplomacy etc. Just the personal perspective, which helps you to really connect to it.

      Jessica

      March 11, 2013 at 11:34 am

      • Yeah, I never heard anyone complaining about not showing the war in The Pianist…like you say, the personal story is what makes it work.

        Nostra

        March 11, 2013 at 11:37 am

  2. Nice review. It’s an incredibly powerful film, particularly the first half. The second half is a little over manipulative but it still works for the most part. I didn’t find it anywhere near as effective upon second viewing though, it lost a lot of its impact.

    • Thank you! Yes, it gets a little bit manipulative, especially the score. But the first half is so strong that it overshadows this. I think a part of the strong impact might have been that I went into seeing it more or less blind. I had no idea of how the family would end up, dead or alive, and this contributed to the tension througout the film. I can imagine it’s not quite the same at a second viewing.

      Jessica

      March 11, 2013 at 11:35 am

  3. Fantastic review Jessica. I loved The Impossible and it was even more potent than I anticipated. It’s a tough watch and my eyes watered multiple times. Except for a very contrived scene close to the end the entire film kept its focus on what mattered – the human experience and the raw, genuine emotion. I really appreciated that. I also love how you mention the use if sound. I pointed it out in my review as well because it’s such a powerful tool in that first half.

    keith7198

    March 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    • Thank you Keith! I agree it’s a tough watch, especially the first 30 minutes. As you say it felt genuine. And yes, the sound was remarkable. I think it added to the sense of this being the real thing. It’s amazing that they in fact mostly used models.

      Jessica

      March 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm

  4. I was disappointed with this film, I just found it a little contrived in places & I didn’t feel any chemistry between the family. Maybe it was the dialogue, it just felt fake.

    The performances were very good & the tsunami scenes were incredible. Many people have picked out Tom Holland as the best child actor, he was excellent but I actually liked the younger brother Thomas played by Samuel Joslin.

    I didn’t have a problem with the focus on a white western family I did have a problem with why a Spanish cast wasn’t used. It’s probably all down to having higher profile actors which is a shame as there are plenty of Spanish actors who could’ve taken on these roles.

    Suzy

    March 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    • Well, I disagree about the lack of chemistry – I thought it felt very real – especially the parent-child bonds. And yes, the younger brother was also great and worth a special mentioning.

      I think that what the movie has won at the box office using English stars, it has lost in reception among critics. With a Spanish cast I think people wouldn’t have been quite as hung up on the fact that it portrays tourists and not inhabitants.

      Jessica

      March 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

  5. Great review Jessica. It is a little manipulative at times but still a great film. I too had a personal viewing on it. I was in Thailand exactly a year before and I made many friends there. Such a devastation. 4/5 sounds about right to me. That was my score also.

    Mark Walker

    March 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    • Thanks Mark! Now I need to jump over and have a look at your take on it. I often postpone reading your reviews of movies that intend to write about until I’ve done my own writing. If we end up having the same take on things, at least no one should have reason to suspect I’m copying stuff. 😉

      Jessica

      March 11, 2013 at 4:07 pm

      • Haha! I don’t believe for a minute you’d copy my stuff Jessica. You’re writing is of a far better standard than mine. I conpletely understand your reasons though. I’m starting to do that myself with certain film’s. It’s always nice to hear your take on film’s I’ve seen myself though. There’s always a close level of appreciation between us. 🙂

        Mark Walker

        March 11, 2013 at 4:37 pm

        • I have a few movies in my writing queue that I know you’ve written about. Looking forward to get to read them soon.

          Jessica

          March 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm

  6. Fantastic review, Jessica. This was one of my favorite 2012 movies. Totally agree with this:

    “as the violin score instructs me when it’s time for a good cry. While it doesn’t ruin the film to me, it seems like overkill to me: tears would have come naturally anyway”

    “This is not a documentary aiming to give the whole picture. Its perspective is the personal experience: what it was like to be there and it’s easier to make this work if the audience can identify with the people on the screen”

    fernandorafael

    March 12, 2013 at 7:52 am

    • Thank you Fernando! I’m not sure where it will end up on my 2013 list, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

      Jessica

      March 12, 2013 at 9:35 am

  7. […] The Impossible You enter the theatre annoyed by an issue with your computer, and you leave it with tears and a new spark in your eyes, grateful of what you have. Grateful of your family, grateful of your health, grateful of living in security. Grateful of being one of the winners in the lottery of life. […]


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