The final two images of J. A . Bayona’s The Impossible left me thinking long after the credits had rolled. The family at the centre is making its way from Thailand after a holiday which really did not go as planned. We move from inside the plane taking the family back home to an image of the wrecked shore then it cuts to a shot of the plane leaving Thailand, rendered miniscule made almost a dot against the backdrop of the blue-sea it's travelling over. The two images are not inherently unsettling, but within the film’s context it speaks volumes to what The Impossible is and what it is not. I don’t believe directors choose to include arbitrary things in their films, so I always look for meaning in what is present. It’s very telling that the tale of one family’s luck amidst a time of turmoil closes not with the potentially hopeful framing of the family at peace or not even the ambiguously teary face of our de facto heroine Maria Bennett (more on that later)….but instead on that wide shot of the impenetrable sea with the Bennett’s plane to the edge of the screen almost invisible. Bayona seems to be stressing the flimsiness of human inclination in the face of nature’s power and in that way it points to my favourite thing about The Impossible, the ineffable and fickle nature of luck and chance.
Jose Solis and I posed the question – would The Impossible be any better…any more profound if it featured a cast of non-white actors? As a non-white person myself I concur that there are important discussions to be had regarding the lack of effective roles for Black, Hispanic, Asian actors but I feel – unfalteringly so – that these necessary discussions are one step removed from the art created. Moreover, I feel sometimes films are only forced to be held accountable for things which have little, sometimes no, effect on the goodness of the art created.
“Films owe us nothing. Art owes us nothing. Would you go back in time and ask Bosch to make more paintings about heaven instead of concentrating on the horrors of hell? Would you ask Leni Riefenstahl not to make Triumph of the Will?”I’ve believed this for some time even though sometimes it’s been mistaken for callousness. But, in the face of good or effective art I’ve been emphatic about art having no inherent moral debt to its audience. More specific to The Impossible, though, the film has been accused for white-washing the story of the original family Spanish family and Jose so curtly pointed out that Spanish persons are Caucasians too. I can’t explain away persons with legitimate issues with The Impossible but the race relations criticism emerges as a more problematic view of building something insidious on relatively benign land.
...the effect of the Bennett's as a window for the Tsunami disaster...
...Bayona's deft tricks with theme, and more...below the jump
The entire thrust of The Impossible de-emphasises any inkling of inherent specialness or importance of the protagonists. The fist shot, which repeats itself later in the film, is of a page of a book flying away from Maria Bennett - a moment so banal in its innocuous nature that it seems almost too random for Bayona to utilise as something of a plot-point some minutes later. But to miss the significance of that is, I think, to miss the themes behind the film. The random and fickle nature of the world we live in - the lack of any thing resembling rhyme or reasons in the machinations of things like destiny only emphasises the way that the world is removed from the inclinations of man. The film steeps a story of family within that uncaing world-canvas not to argue that hope will always prevail but to say hope can prevail...but when it it does, there is no reason to it.
The only emphatically bad thing about the film is that doggedly maddening score which seems to be separate from the story Bayona is telling.
I know The Impossible has not been effective for all, but did it work for you?