Hiding behind the sofa


– only I couldn’t as we were in the cinema.

We have all seen the phone camera recordings a dozen times:  the 2004 tsunami crashing through the trees and obliterating the peaceful poolside morning.  This familiarity is given a tweak by showing the wave without warning, and from a much lower and nearer viewpoint than was (obviously) possible for the original footage.  That, and the underwater scenes which follow, in which human bodies, cars and debris churn as in a giant washing machine, were gruesomely convincing.

Other parts of The Impossible felt more exploitative, manipulative, more sanitized even (in spite of the smashed-up scene and extras).  And of course this family’s ordeal has an impossible ending – even if it really happened.  The film was probably made as authentic as audiences would find acceptable; but I do feel a squeamish unease, wondering if it should have been made at all.

6 responses »

  1. Good question – how do we decide where the line is between honest artistic exploration of tragedy, and exploitative junk for us to drool over while congratulating ourselves on how safe we are? Can you draw a single line, when the people in the audience vary unpredictably in how mature and empathetic and well-informed they might be?

    I don’t know the answers, but I’ve certainly read and seen things that left me feeling grimy – and I think perhaps, for me at least, the issue is whether I’m invited to recognize that we’re all vulnerable, or whether I’m pushed toward feeling reassured that horrors only destroy unimportant people. Not people who matter, like me and mine, or like the main characters of the story.

    • I think the film did try to show this family as any family, and to suggest that their fortunate outcome was plain luck – but being so lucky sort of debars them from being Everyman and Everywoman and Everychild.

      • Yes – I think there are two ways (which can be combined) around the Chosen Special Survivor role for the main characters: either let some other random people survive and make it clear that all of the survivors were lucky, or else allow for some lingering damage, physical or emotional, in the fortunate family. (That’s probably necessary for a realistic story anyhow; does anybody survive a disaster like that without, at a minimum, doing some obsessive soul-searching and having a few nightmares afterward?)

        I haven’t seen the movie, so I may be off target here, but your original post left me with the impression that the protagonist family just danced happily away, maybe celebrating their good fortune but otherwise unaffected.

        • They made the physical damage obvious. The emotional damage was implied, but only visible if you were looking for it. Still not quite sure if I would recommend the film or not.

    • Also that the suffering of the Thai people wasn’t presented – which did seem to be a valid charge, though there were some ‘local’ characters appearing as survivors in the hospital, as well as rescuers.

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