It was Christmas Eve, 2004 and “Maria” (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) arrived in Thailand for a vacation at a new seaside resort, along with their sons “Lucas” (Tom Holland), “Thomas” (Samuel Joslin) and “Simon” (Oaklee Pendergast). They enjoyed a lovely dinner that night, spent an idyllic Christmas opening gifts and going to the beach and to the pool. The following day, December 26th found them at the resort’s pool.
Henry and two of the boys were together while Lucas and Maria were a short distance away. What happened next shattered their lives and shook the world – literally. An earthquake beneath the ocean that went on from eight to ten minutes caused a tsunami that may have reached 100 feet in height in some places. The incredibly powerful wave swept Maria and Lucas away and separated Henry from the other two boys.
Maria’s leg was badly injured. Lucas helped her to safety in a tree, although they detoured along the way to rescue a boy even younger than any of Maria’s three children. Eventually, some villagers found them and carried Maria and Lucas to a hospital where her injuries could be tended. Henry found the other two boys, and eventually transportation from the resort to higher, safer ground was arranged. But Henry refused to go, insisting that he must go on searching for Maria and Lucas.
The Impossible is the amazing story of this family’s survival, and is based on real events. It is a magnificent effort from director Bayona and screenwriter Sanchez who previously collaborated on The Orphanage. Sanchez worked from the true story of Maria Belon, on whom Watts’ character is modeled. In fact, Belon wanted Watts in that role.
This is a film that mixes awesome images of destruction with astonishing displays of bravery, courage, selflessness and sacrifice. Lucas learns a great life lesson from the act of having helped that other child and it changes his worldview. Holland, working in his first feature film, does a great job. Naomi Watts is always a joy to watch, not just because she’s lovely, but because she has considerable ‘chops’ as an actress. Ewan McGregor captures the emotions of a man searching desperately for a wife and child that may well be dead, but who is refusing to concede that possibility’s existence as long as they have not been found. Geraldine Chaplin has a short but very nice moment with one of the family’s children, passing on sage advice.
The Impossible manages to do just that, telling one family’s tale while reminding us that this was one of the world’s worst natural disasters ever. Over 230,000 people died, millions were left homeless and even now the reconstruction of property and the lives of the victims is a work in progress. The film also manages to do both of those things while giving its audience a movie that keeps them on the edge of their seats, waiting to see if all, some or none of this family survives.