In a former church, I worked two major natural disasters. Both were related to hurricanes.
While working in the first, a veteran of that kind of work said something profound: “Disasters are such that if there is something good in people, it will come out. And if there is something bad, it will come, too.”
“The Impossible” puts this truth on display.
Based on the true story of a family that survived the tsunami that struck Thailand on Dec. 26, 2004, we witness the goodness and the pettiness of those encountered on the way to reunion.
The film follows a mother (Naomi Watts) and father (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) to Thailand.
They are going there for the Christmas holiday, and good fortune seemingly smiles upon them as they are upgraded to a villa by the ocean.
We watch as they exchange gifts and begin to enjoy the beach. Things are perfect.
Then a distant noise becomes like the roar of a rushing freight train as water pours down upon them.
The waves push the mother and the oldest son in one direction while the father and the other two children are taken in another.
The first part of the movie focuses on the mother and her oldest son. First, we see them fight the water as they are carried away from the hotel and swept out into the countryside.
As they are swept away, the mother is wounded. Her leg is cut badly, which becomes a barrier to their survival.
They find a tree, but before they can climb out of the water, they hear the cry of a child. The mother tells her son to go and find who it is.
The boy angrily says he is only concerned about the two of them. He is sure the rest of the family is dead and does not care for this lost person.
The mother shows herself to be the moral compass of the family as she insists that he go and find the child. She shows a selflessness that is at the core of who she is.
The son goes off and finds a small boy, whom he rescues and brings back to the tree.
After a while, local villagers doing a primitive search and rescue find these three survivors and help them down from the tree.
They quickly realize they cannot do what is needed for the mother, who has lost a lot of blood and needs surgery.
They take her to a hospital, which is nothing short of chaos. Her rescuers push through the crowds and into the building, demanding that she receive treatment.
At this point, the story moves back to the father, who has the two other boys.
A chance to be moved to a refugee camp is offered. He makes a decision to send his children off without his accompaniment while he returns to look for their mother and oldest brother.
One can see the father’s pain of letting go of his children for the sake of a wife and son for whom there appears to be no real hope of finding.
The movie reveals how much the power of family can compel in the face of disaster. The two halves of the family seek to survive with the single thought of coming back together as one.
But how strangers can become community is the primary theme of the narrative. Community develops not merely by common circumstance, but by a willingness to share and help with what is available.
The film portrays both sides of the struggle for community, revealing that forming community with strangers requires a sense of solidarity with others in need.
We see the positive side of this struggle when the injured mother compels her son to seek out, find and rescue a young child. We further see it in the actions of the local villagers who rescue these three survivors.
We see the negative side of this struggle when the father asks to borrow a cell phone, only to have the stranger quickly pull back and say, “I’m saving the battery. Look around you. Everybody needs something.”
There are lessons here for the church.
We are bound in the common circumstance of this life, but if we want to establish community with strangers we, like the mother and local villagers, must be willing to share what we have in order to help others in need.
When we remain gathered within our small enclaves and do not reach out to those outside and offer what we have for their betterment, we miss a chance to create the community of Christ.
This is a fine movie, which has received an Oscar nomination for Naomi Watts as best actress. When you see what she endured for its filming, you will know it is well deserved.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity.
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez (screenplay), María Belón (story)
Cast: Naomi Watts: Maria; Ewan McGregor: Henry; Tom Holland: Lucas; Samuel Joslin: Thomas; Oakless Pendergast: Simon.
The movie’s website is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.