Moviegoers are subject to so many apocalyptic, CGI-infused (and frankly downright awful) disaster movies that when confronted with something like The Impossible, we almost don’t know how to react. This is a disaster movie that dwarfs anything Cloverfield and Poseidon could possibly conjure. It feels much more powerful.
And that’s because it’s based on real life events that we all remember. Even as we reel from the tragedy in Newtown, we remember that there was a massive, natural disaster that took the lives of literally hundreds of thousands in the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asia. The tsunami of 2004 is the greatest natural disaster to have ever afflicted humanity in all of recorded history. To overstate its devastation is impossible.
But The Impossible is not about devastation. It’s about survival and hope, two things that exist in finite but powerful doses when such tragedies occur. It’s almost pointless to try to describe the bare bones plot (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play a European couple on vacation in Thailand with their three kids when the tsunami hits the day after Christmas) because it’s what the characters do instead of what is done to them that makes the movie work so magnificently.
McGregor has never been more watchable or charming as the father who would literally do anything to save his children. Watts seems to be in a trance throughout the film, inhabiting an almost animalistic awareness of her survival that is perfect for the film. In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, this movie may be too much to stomach for some. But for others, it may be precisely the reminder needed to uplift and affirm the fragile faith in an even more fragile humanity.