Built to overcome: The Impossible, a review

Photo credit: Villuti Creative Studio

To be human is to be kind. 

If there is one thing I’d take away from The Impossible (2012), it would be that. In the desire to care and in the intent to reach out to one another, social barriers are irrelevant. In the face of seemingly insurmountable tragedy, we revert to what we truly, authentically are—genuine persons determined to help each other and heal each other without expecting anything in return. We are kind and we are generous, and when we are struck by calamity, we see each other’s goodness most clearly.

The film, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by Sergio G. Sanchez, explores this by retelling Maria Belon and her family’s experience while on vacation in Thailand on the fateful day of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Helmed by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, it reaches its first dramatic climax within the twentieth minute, and it rarely lets up until the end. The Impossible follows the Bennett family (Maria, Henry, and their three sons Lucas, Thomas, and Simon) and their attempts to find each other after being separated by this unexpected disaster; but more than that, it paints a picture of unadulterated kindness. I cried my way through it because I did not expect to be so profoundly moved.

The film’s strongest scenes are its quietest — my favorite is that of the little boy Daniel reaching out to gently hold Maria’s hand as she clung to a tree branch in pain. It was in that tender moment I realized it is impossible to sever the bonds that tie us, and that these bonds enable us to feel so deeply for each other, so much so that we don’t need to speak the same language or be related by blood. We are all of us human, and on the basis of this alone, we are able to give kindness freely without being asked for it; and we are able to convey the deepest compassion that hints at the most powerful kind of love.

It is also a story of the unbelievable resilience of the human spirit. Indeed, we find the best versions of ourselves when we think wholly of others — and this is told and re-told through the many characters in the film resolute in the effort to stay alive for their families, or unwavering in the effort to help others find and save their families. It was one of the purest portrayals of solidarity that I had ever seen. It was also easy to see why The Impossible is so critically acclaimed — it reveals human beings for what we truly are.

We are built to overcome. And we are built to overcome the impossible. This film was a welcome reminder of that irrefutable truth.

Written by Kara Medina, an international intern at the WYA Headquarters from the Philippines.

This review repeatedly refers to chapters in the Certified Training Program (CTP) pertaining to Human Dignity, Freedom, and Solidarity.