Thailand, 2004. The worst tsunami in recorded history obliterates Khao Lak, an ocean front tourist attraction, plucking Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts, nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards) and her family, and throwing them into their own private hell. Maria and her eldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), find themselves battling isolation and a massive injury to Maria; father Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their two youngest sons are deposited elsewhere. We know it’s based on a true story, but the question remains, how in the world could this family and this community survive?
Watts is masterful here and deserved the nod, but the child actors are amazing. Holland is terrific and the two younger boys play their parts with a mix of bravado and fear in a way that seems entirely organic. Forced into adult roles, these children took care of each other, their parents, and even random strangers who were injured, scared, and struggling to hang onto an inkling of reality that they knew before their world turned upside down.
If you dig disaster movies, then this one is for you. If you don’t… yeah. In the wake of the Boston Marathon tragedy, people responded in superhuman ways, both for themselves and for others. In The Impossible, no one would’ve survived if other people hadn’t come to their aid at some point. It’s striking that in this third world situation, no one saw it coming, but what’s more striking is that the people who respond took care of everyone, regardless of their background, nationality, similarities, or anything different from the fact that they were human and they were in need.
One scene in the movie sticks out in my mind. McGregor’s father has found a group of other non-Thai who were vacationing and now shares their sorrows. One man actually has his cellphone as he’s waiting for his family to call, but he surrenders the phone to Henry first to call and then to follow-up. He recognizes Henry’s need and sublimates his own need. When Henry is overcome by fear and grief, another person there surrounds him with a hug and words of comfort. This is the hurting and damaged caring for the hurting and damaged, this is care from the position of equality, from parallel compassion. THIS is what happens when the faithful recognize that they are still works in progress and that they are no better off than those who have not yet met Jesus, but for meeting Jesus. It is an image of the church as hospital, as refuge for the sick who in their healing care for the sick themselves.
The Impossible is not heartwarming. Yes, they achieve some closure here, but the pain and the scars remain fresh as the camera fades to black. This is a story of family, of triumph, of our community at large, and a reminder that we should care for those we can while we can. That what we do with the time we’re allowed matters.