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'The Impossible' Revisits Devastating 2004 Tsunami

  • Penelope Poulou

Eight years after the Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed 230,000 lives, a new film depicts the trauma and devastation left in its wake.

Based on a true story, The Impossible focuses on a vacationing family which is caught up in the chaos after the mammoth wave hits. Graphic images make the suffering and loss difficult to watch, but the film also depicts the triumph of the human spirit.

Juan Antonio Bayona's cinematic rendition of the gargantuan wave crushing everything in its path is neither entertaining nor escapist. It's a reminder of that horrific moment in 2004, the day after Christmas, when the tsunami snuffed the life out of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims.

The film focuses on an upper class family of tourists facing nature's wrath. Swept along by the waves, the mother, Maria, and her oldest son, Lucas, are separated from the rest of the family.

Maria is badly injured, but survives thanks to Lucas and the help of strangers. Meanwhile, Henry, the father, and the two younger boys frantically search for their loved ones.

Gut-wrenching performances by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the traumatized parents, as well as by up-and-coming Tom Holland as Lucas, help us connect with the victims.

Bayona and his special effects crew recreated the event showing the devastation from the perspective of the victims. The film evokes the chaos in the makeshift hospitals and the desperate search for family members. But it also reminds us of the kindness of people in a crisis of huge proportions.

“I really believe it’s an experience," says Bayona. "I left it open so that the audience could leave the theater with something to think about."

However, no matter how well done, a film cannot replicate the pain and sorrow of those who lost their loved ones.

Eight years later, Murizal Hamzah, a freelance journalist who lived in Banda Aceh at the time, still mourns his sister.

“On average, most people in Banda Aceh lost at least one member of their family in that disaster," Hamzah says. "When the tsunami hit my place, my sister and I were separated. I went to an empty house and she run to the other way with some friend[s]. I lost some relatives too who lived in the next village.”

Many have criticized the film's focus on an upper class European family while hundreds of thousands of Asians perished. But, by using this family, Bayona shines a light through darkness and leaves a memorial to all those who were lost.
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