Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
(PG-13, 114 min.)
"A boy becomes a man when a man is needed." John Steinbeck
This riveting look at the 2004 South Asian tsunami from the birds eye view of one family will have you glued to your seat. But this is not a cheap by-the-numbers disaster flick. The film’s strength comes from its focus on the human element rather than the details of the disaster.
Based on the true story of one family that did survive, The Impossible does not, however, hide the real devastation that took some 230,000 lives. That carnage chews at the corners of the screen as the camera pans past the bundled corpses, and we realize many survivors will never see their loved ones again.
But we do not stray to focus on any other victims of this disaster, the story tellers making a wise choice to concentrate on the struggle of this single family instead of following the fad of having multiple vignettes like those featured in Hereafter or Crash, not to mention those forgettable Valentine offerings that crop up like early February weeds.
In the tradition of that other survival film, The Life of Pi, this is in essence a movie pared down to its bare essentials. Like the tropical paradise that is itself stripped of its manmade artificial beauty by the tidal wave, this film is also stripped of so many things we as filmgoers have come to depend upon. There is no sex, nudity or profanity. Unlike the inordinately praised Silver Linings Playbook with a dysfunctional family at its center, Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three sons are frighteningly normal.
Perhaps it is the scope of this natural disaster, one of the deadliest in recorded history, that allows us to look in unembarrassed awe at the family ties that bind us. We do not have to degrade family members as unbalanced semi freaks before we are allowed to observe their love for each other. Our initial glimpse of Lucas (Tom Holland), the oldest son, as a bit of a smart aleck is limited to some early banter. Perhaps that is only to show his evolution as a boy burdened with becoming a man on such short notice.
Things we thought we had outgrown as sophisticated filmgoers show their durability as we become like new parents who suddenly realize theirs weren’t so clueless after all.
How wonderful to see old age treated with dignity once again, instead of the lamentable vulgar parodies of it paraded on screen lately. Sixty-eight year old Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie and granddaughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, shows her classy lineage in a short but impressive scene where she talks about the stars with a frightened and lonely survivor.
And then there are the poignant moments of human kindness, such as sharing a working cell phone with a stranger, its worth and fragile battery life as precious as diamonds. And we have the many selfless examples of Maria herself. She disregards her son Lucas, who urges her to forget about the crying child they hear and head for higher ground before another wave devastates. Later, the mute rescued child shares a treetop with mother and son and shows his wordless gratitude as his little fingers shyly entwine themselves with Maria’s. Even while badly injured, Maria tells her son Lucas to leave her hospital bedside and try to help the others around them.
It is gratifying to see Naomi Watts nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her fine work here. Tom Holland, who plays Lucas, demonstrates such range and sophistication that he should have gotten a Supporting Actor nomination, as well as Ewan McGregor, who plays her husband Henry with steely tenderness.
Instead of straying into the February minefield of B movie battlefields, retreat to this 2012 gem. You will be well rewarded.
I hope I am not being too cavalier in suggesting this spicy Thai Cocktail to go along a film centered on a natural disaster that took so many lives. But isn’t it man’s lot, after a decent period of mourning, to pick up the pieces and welcome a new day? It is in that spirit that I have chosen Thailand’s signature cocktail, The Siam Sunrise. Here is John Howe’s very eloquent description.
Siam Sunrise embodies the spirit of Thailand. The refreshing and uplifting qualities of fragrant Kaffir lime leaves and the aromatic tang of lemon grass reflect the fresh, vibrant nature of the people and country. A subtle hint of small prik kee nu chilies, super hot Thai chilies (an innovative alternative to peppermint), imparts a tingling sensation, but the drink is ice cool. While ginger warms the spirit, in a mixture of alcohol they awaken the senses.
Siam Sunrise Cocktail
A shot of vodka
A dash of chilli pepper and sugar
A few slivers of lemon grass and ginger
Shake the mixture then strain into a glass with ice and soda water. Once decanted into a tall glass it looks very refreshing indeed, its almost opalescent hue is reminiscent of ice on windows.