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The Impossible: Family and survival in the 2004 tsunami

(This review includes spoilers to the events of the film. If you want to watch it unspoiled, read no further)

Lucas (Tom Holland) watches as the tsunami hits.

Lucas (Tom Holland) watches as the tsunami hits.

Woman: “Some of those stars have been burned out for a long, long time. Did you know that?”

Thomas: “They're dead, aren't they?”

Woman: “They're dead, but once they were so bright that their light is still travelling through space and we can still see them.”

Thomas: “How can you know which one is dead and which is not?”

Woman: “No, you can't. Impossible!”

This conversation occurs during the half part of 2012’s film The Impossible, between seven-year old Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and an elderly woman. It’s the only moment when the word “impossible” is uttered in the film, and it might hint at things to come or things that already happened. But still, the word “impossible” permeates lots of events in the film. Whether it’s the impossible task faced by 12-year old Lucas (Tom Holland) to look after his ill mother in the midst of the chaos of the tsunami, the impossible decision of her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) to leave his two children behind to look for his wife and older son, or the seemingly impossible task of finding a relative in the middle of the destruction. More importantly, just how impossible it would be to believe that such a catastrophic event actually happened, or that a whole family could be able to survive it. But against all those circumstances, the word "impossible" was never said.


The Impossible follows the true story of María (Naomi Watts) and her family, the Bennets, who are vacationing in Thailand for Christmas. When the tsunami hits in the morning of December 26, 2004, the family is washed away, thrown around by the waters, and split. We first follow María and her son Lucas, who somehow manage to stay together despite the rushing waters. With María seriously injured, Lucas has to look after her as they scramble for safety first, and then for help. However, as time passes, María’s condition worsens making us wonder if it's possible for her to survive all of this.

Towards the middle of the film, it is revealed that Henry and the two younger children are also alive, still around the hotel premises. Henry, however, is desperate to find his wife and oldest son and makes the impossible decision to let his two children go to the safety of the mountains with other families while he stays behind looking for the rest of his family.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) with his children, Thomas and Simon

Henry (Ewan McGregor) with his children, Thomas and Simon

Watching The Impossible one has to put in perspective what actually happened. One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded (9.1-9.3) had caused a massive tsunami across the Indian Ocean, affecting dozens of countries, and causing more than 200,000 casualties. The tremendous nature of the event makes it impossible to believe. But it did happen, and it still stands as one of the deadliest natural disasters in history of which countries are still recovering.

It is in the middle of this chaos that the story of The Impossible takes place. With each of its members separated, battered and bruised, desperate to find each other. With Henry incessantly looking for his family and María’s condition worsening, I thought to myself “It’s impossible that they’ll get together in time”. What’s more impossible to believe is that what you saw on film actually happened. The film is based on the story of María Belón and her family, who survived the 2004 tsunami. Belón, who was heavily involved in the production of the film, made sure that it was as accurate as possible.

Lucas (Tom Holland) and María (Naomi Watts) survive the tsunami wave.

Lucas (Tom Holland) and María (Naomi Watts) survive the tsunami wave.

Belón even chose Naomi Watts as the actress that would play herself, after watching her performance on 21 Grams. Watts delivers a powerful performance going from the strong, willful mother to a beaten shell of a woman that barely survived this tragedy. Ewan McGregor and the other kids also deliver good performances, but more impressive to me was young Tom Holland’s performance as Lucas. Holland managed to hold his own against an Academy Award nominated actress like Watts, while giving his character all the necessary traits to make him believable. From the expected fear that a child would have at what’s happening or how he finds the necessary strength in the face of adversity, all while still being a child.

Aside of the performances, J.A. Bayona’s work is deserving of praise. His direction puts the audience right in the middle of the tsunami. The scenes where he follows either Lucas or María underwater as they are being washed away by the waves are impressive.

The real Bayona-Belón family

The real Bayona-Belón family

The Impossible might not be a perfect film, or the most memorable, but it was a pretty good, well-acted and well-done film about an event so tragic that I’m sure it’s impossible to forget. Grade: B+

The Impossible Official Trailer

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Other films based on true story events...

  • Argo: A cosmic conflagration
    The tale of how the CIA managed to rescue six diplomats during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Argo is a decent and effective film. Slick and cool. Maybe not Oscar worthy, but still effective.
  • Conspiracy: The Banality of Evil
    HBO's dramatization of the Wannsee Conference features an excellent cast, and a great script full of manipulations and manifestations of how banal evil can be.


Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on October 08, 2013:

Thanks, thumbi7! It's good to hear stories of survival like the ones on the film, particularly when they are real.

JR Krishna from India on October 07, 2013:

Stories of 2004 tsunami make us feel sad.

The tsunami itself and its after effects on survivors was very traumatic. We have heard many stories from across the world.

Your review here is very touching.

Thanks for sharing this

IslandBites from Puerto Rico on August 26, 2013:

I cried through the whole movie. The tsunami scenes are impressive. Nice review!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on August 26, 2013:

Wow- I never heard of this movie but it sounds like it is a good one. Going to look it up. Thanks for sharing- voted up.

Carlo Giovannetti (author) from Puerto Rico on August 26, 2013:

Thanks for your comment, johnsonrallen. I suppose the impact from the film would be harder for someone who was so close to this tragedy.

Robert Allen Johnson from Fort Wayne, IN on August 26, 2013:

I've been wanting to see this movie for a while now. I lived in Thailand for three years and was in SE Asia when the tsunami hit, so I feel like I have a connection to the movie in more than one way.

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