I’m fairly comfortable with my position as one of the loudest cheerers for The Impossible this side of the internet, a 2012 film that was not quite maligned but existed in a space where effusive appreciation for it seems rare. It's a fine film for many reasons, not least among them is the fine work director Juan Antonio Bayona does in making the terrifying implications of the Tsunami play across the screen.
I’ve never been able to talk about The Impossible for long without acknowledging its thorny internet place as the ultimate sign of white-people-suffering films which has always come off to be as an especially disingenuous criticism of the film, as I've argued before.
Even ignoring the narrative issues one might have with the film, though, it’s difficult to ignore Bayona’s skill as a director and the excellent technical work on display in The Impossible.
I suspect the most difficult aspect of Sergio G. Sánchez (screenwriter) was the film’s opening ten minutes with Bennett’s. These are regular people to the point of being almost nondescript. Maria, a physician, wants to go back to work. Henry, her husband, seems vaguely bullish but all in a very minute ways, nothing exceptional. It’s just a typical nuclear family on holiday in Khao Lak. Business as usual really, and even as the Bennett’s are the film’s focus Bayona’s directorial focus is so often on the general and not the family’s specificities it’s hard not to realise that the film’s thrust is more general than personal.
Like this aerial shot of the resort, very business as usual.
It’s an interesting point to note, it’s that same leaf flying away which opens the film probably an indication of the randomness of life. More interesting is the book’s title The Heart of Darkness. I ponder on the use of Conrad’s text and its implications considering its subject of a European heading into the land of the “native”, although knowing how obvious that is Bayona’s use of the text here seems almost deliberately subversive. This is not a tale of the white man being unable to deal with nature’s peculiarities, but a horror tale of how mother nature does not care who stands in her way.
It’s so obvious she’s trapped she doesn’t even try to foolishly run.
In a way this is such a terrifying moment because it leaves us in the dark. For a bit I wondered whether Bayona was going to leave us to imagine the destruction without showing it. More than a few second of blackness and silence pass, blackness fading into browness and the water gurgling until the loudness of the waves comes at us and we’re met with this.
But, Naomi, though. It’s a wonder that this performance ever became a staple at award ceremonies last year because it’s such an unusual one. How to make the single emotion of fear sustained for such a long time with any nuance? If you remember the clips shown for her last year it becomes even clearer how this performance – excellent as it may be – lacks the single-scene moments of a typically nominated performance. Kudos to them for recognising her.
Bayona doesn’t let them have it easy either.
Lucas spots his mother across from him, at first fearing she is dead he begins to sob but realising she is not he swims towards her. And we finally get the embrace we’ve been building towards.
They swim to the trunk of a nearby tree.
Maria's I'm scared, too is harrowing. Is it over, Lucas asks. And, that look of Naomi there speaks volume. Who the hell knows if it’s over? When is it ever really over, even? Who can predict the unpredictable?