Oscars night has come and gone, and the nominees for Best Picture were, from a family perspective, relatively slim pickings. Most of them ranged from spiritually muddled at best (Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild) to profane, violent and/or morally offensive at worst (roughly half the nominees). The picture which came out on top in the end, historical hostage thriller Argo, was actually one of the better choices. I agree with Focus on the Family’s Plugged In (whose Oscar roundtable podcast you can check out here), that it was a fun, exciting, well-made film which could easily have been appropriate for young teens on up were it not for its bad language. A candidate for ClearPlay, perhaps.
However, my favorite film of the year wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. In fact, my favorite film of the year was barely nominated for anything and came home empty-handed.
That film would be The Impossible. And in a break from form, I’m not going to run through a detailed review of it, partly because I’m pressed for time to blog at the moment, partly because I think the film doesn’t need it. But I will offer a few reasons why I would recommend it so highly:
1. The story is compelling. And it’s true. It follows a young family on vacation in Thailand who becomes caught up in the 2004 tsunami. The characters are British-born and the original family was Spanish, but that’s the only major change to the real-life circumstances inspiring the film.
2. The acting is gripping and heartfelt. The father, mother and three young boys all turn in riveting performances. In particular, the mother and eldest boy are separated from the rest of the family together, and the bond this creates between them is perhaps the most powerful aspect of the movie. The boy, a mere 12 years old, cares for his wounded mother with fierce protectiveness even as he struggles to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster that has befallen them. At the same time, she steadfastly refuses to think of herself, offering what comfort she can to those around her. Naomi Watts’ performance in the mother’s role rightly earned an Oscar nomination. Many feel Tom Holland should have been nominated for Best Actor as the son.
3. The writing is graceful. Whoever wrote the script for this film has an uncanny ear for what natural dialogue should sound like. Nothing sounds forced. And there are moments when what is left unsaid speaks just as loudly. I was particularly struck by a quiet scene after the disaster where one of the little boys is star-gazing with an old woman (a stunning cameo from Geraldine Chaplin). They start chatting about stars and the nature of starlight. She says, “Some of those stars have been burnt out for a long time. Did you know that?” The little boy turns and asks, “They’re dead, aren’t they?” There’s a pause. Then, gently, the lady continues, “They’re dead, but once they were so bright that their light is still traveling through space…” Brilliant.
4. It’s uplifting. It’s the story of an ordinary family forced to face circumstances that threaten to crush them. It’s also the story of the people who touch them along the way. The sympathetic father who believes his own family to be dead but accompanies and encourages the father in the story as they search together. The small boy whom the mother insists on finding and taking charge of, who is too young to speak but tenderly strokes her while she rests. The elderly Thai women who give the mother her first basic medical care and wrap her in a blanket as she shakes her head, barely able to express her gratitude. Images like this linger long after the last frame fades.
I should offer one word of caution: This movie is not for the faint-hearted. Nothing is sugar-coated in the portrayal of injury and illness. We see the mother as she is battered and thrashed about helplessly under the water. As she steps onto the land, we see that her leg is gruesomely torn and bloody. Her tank-top strap has come undone, revealing one of her breasts. In a touching moment, her son looks away as she covers herself. Once in the hospital, she and another woman begin to cough up blood and vomit violently at the same moment. For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend this film for the entire family. But for older teens and adults who can handle some disturbing disaster images, you should see this. Even among good films, it stands out.