Before I get started with my review of the movie The Impossible, I need to state that I recommend this movie. It made me think: What would I do in similar circumstances? Particularly, if I was the father. But the movie is heavily flawed.
The Impossible is the mostly-true story of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami’s impact on a family of five who were vacationing on the coast of southern Thailand. The movie is about what transpired during and right after a tsunami wave struck a high-end resort area. The mother (well acted by Naomi Watts) and oldest son were washed inland, but the father and two youngest sons end up at the mostly destroyed hotel where they were staying.
I know this is an unusal suggestion, but for me this movie needed an epilogue. Some sort of ex-post analysis of what the two parents and oldest son could have done differently. Not something to criticize or second guess, but ideas about how to better survive a catastrophic event like a tsunami. Some things I thought about included:
- When caught in whitewater, I’ve always heard that you should keep your feet in front of you to protect your body. But this presupposes that you have on a life preserver and sandals. In the case of the mother and oldest son, I wondered about trying to find something that floats, and then keeping your feet in front of you.
- In the hospital, the mother seems to stay dirty for a long time. I wondered what kept the son from trying to clean her up? Was there a lack of water? It seems like some effort to take care of her superficial wounds would have been important, particularly as it relates to infection.
- At the mostly destroyed hotel, the father decides to separate from his two youngest sons. I realize that the father is distraught, and wants to find his wife and oldest son. But I can’t imagine any scenario that would justify separating from two very young boys who are ill-prepared to survive under these conditions. (At this point in the film, the moviegoers know that the mother and oldest son are safe, something the father didn’t know.) The mother was trained as a doctor, I think you have to presume that she can take care of herself, and your responsibility is to your young sons.
These are not criticisms of the family; they had to act in real-time. But are simply observations made after the fact.
The one part of The Impossible that could have been better highlighted is the economic disparity between the “rich” tourists living in edenic conditions in a compound-like environment and the “poorer” Thais living in adjacent areas. Yet despite the differences, the Thais did what they could to help all in need.
One blog review takes the issue much farther. This reviewer finds the film to be racist:
It is the fact that the film centers around the 2004 tsunami [which displaced more than a million Asians], yet the majority of the victims shown in the film are wealthy white tourists that is truly disturbing. The Thai people in the film are reduced to nameless entities whose only job is to help the white tourists.
As a result, The Impossible reduces the family’s experience and the overall impact of the tsunami on Asia, to nothing more than a hollow film about what wealthy tourist had to endure.
Additionally, there is something ethically wrong about the compound-style tourism displayed in the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against travel to developing countries. In many cases, tourism is a major contributor to the local economy. But it needs to be done in a way that leaves as much of your travel money in-country as possible. And you need to have interaction with the locals.
The need for reliable communications was well highlighted in the movie. In most parts of the world these days, cell phone are ubiquitous. The need to have a working cell phone during a disaster might well save your life. In the movie, battery power was a big issue. I think I would recommend that travelers to developing countries carry an extra charged battery, and consider taking a solar charger. During an event like a tsunami, your cell phone and charger may be destroyed or lost, but during other types of disasters they may well be very useful.
If your children are not too young to handle the intense tsunami and hospital scenes, this would be a good movie to watch as a family. After it is over, you could have a discussion about what to do during an emergency. Or some of the ethical issues.
Recommendation: Rent it when it comes out on DVD.