Why I Am Not Going to See “The Impossible”

A new movie, that is not Les Mis, hit theatres recently and, though the subject matter is very personal to me, I won’t be going to see this one. Check out the trailer for The Impossible here:

This movie tells the story of a family who become separated from one another as they are vacationing at a luxury resort in Thailand when the 2004 Asian tsunami hit. There the similarities begin and end with my family because I too was on vacation that fateful day, though never separated from my family as we were on our way to swim with manatees in Florida. And this is also where Hollywood starts manipulating the story to attempt to get you to think, “Can you imagine if that happened to us?!!! OMG!!!” Truthfully this movie is based on the experience of a Spanish family..close culture enough, but..if Hollywood turns the Spanish family into an “English” family, well, that’s even closer. Talk about an “us-centric” perspective.

Although I am sure there is a powerful story to tell about what happened to this family that day and in the days that followed, I couldn’t bear to watch a film about the tsunami told from this perspective. Again, no disrespect to the real family that this based_on_a_true_story film is about, but I am less interested in how this disaster affected a Western white family, than I am in its impact on the people who call that part of the world their home. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost in the 2004 tsunami and countless more had their lives forever changed. A tiny fraction of those looked like the family in The Impossible.

Almost two years after the disaster, my family and I moved to the area that was hardest hit by the tsunami and lived there for 3 years. In our time there, I never met a single person who had not lost family and or dear friends in the disaster. I met mothers who lost all of their children, their babies literally wrenched from their arms by the rushing waters, husbands who lost their wives, wives who lost their husbands, children who lost their parents, men who lost their livelihood in a matter of minutes, and friends who lost everyone they grew up with. The loss penetrated every home and every family in this region, which has become a second home to me.

Unlike the white, European family on vacation in Thailand, they didn’t get to leave the destruction behind and “go back home.” Though rebuilding has taken place and 8 years have now passed, my friends in the devastation area can never escape what happened on December 26, 2004. Everywhere and every day there are reminders. Holidays without family members, passing the many mass graves every day, wondering if the never_found bodies of their loved ones lie there, seeing where their old house once stood. There is no escaping the obliterated landscape. Its where they still live.

But Hollywood would never want to make a big screen picture about the locals who suffered that day. Westerners much prefer to see a story about people that look like them, live like them and in this case, have a way better accent than I do, Naomi Watts. Because those are the shoes we can see ourselves in, and that is how most people want to view the world, from our own perspective. We can’t really relate to what the locals went through, or how their lives were turned completely upside down and inside out on that fateful day. After all, when it comes to the movies, that wouldn’t be entertainment.

When I talked with one local about their tsunami memories 8 years in to the disaster, they said, “I remember the silence.” The city was noisy that day, as it usually is, with the sounds of motorbikes, roosters, the Muslim call to prayer, people’s voices. And then when the water came, as it approached the city, you heard yells and cries for help followed by an immediate and seemingly permanent silence. It was as if someone had switched off a light. The silence that suddenly engulfed the city was so loud. I can never forget the silence.”

The tsunami of December 26, 2004 claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in a matter of minutes, and yet a very small fraction of them actually looked like those portrayed in this movie. Here is a picture of a real person whose life was impacted by the tsunami.

KJ8P6982Would you pay $8 to see a movie about how the tsunami affected this woman? A devout Muslim woman in a third world country who likely doesn’t even have a high school education, whose husband may be a fisherman, and may not have running water in her home? Like the white family, she was profoundly affected by the disaster. And yet, 8 years on, she has lived through unimaginable loss, seen rebuilding in her province and been forced to move on with her life. And yet there are some areas of her life which no new paint, bricks and redevelopment money can ever repair, and no Hollywood movie could ever adequately capture.

I don’t mean to minimize the trauma the family in The Impossible experienced on their exotic vacation, but a movie about the tsunami from the tourist’s perspective does not interest me, especially when the main characters are a family that looks and lives like mine. What a gross misrepresentation.


One thought on “Why I Am Not Going to See “The Impossible”

  1. Hilary,

    I just had a brief conversation with Curt about this, and he pointed me to this post.

    Merriem and I went to see this movie last night, and the entire time I was thinking about your family. You’re right: there is so much westernization that makes this film palatable to the American mindset. The directors played on every conceivable human emotion, and it was quite a bit of the “That could be my family” sentiment that erupted from both of us.

    The one scene that “featured” a group of locals was when the mother and son were rescued by three Taiwanese men who took them back to their village. But that’s where it ended. The rest of the movie was just as you said: focusing on white people trying to reunite so they could get back to their medical evac jet and leave the devastation behind.

    I don’t mean for a minute to say that I wasn’t “entertained” by the movie in some way. It was a well produced film. Great acting. Great storyline. But as the family flew out over the ocean at the end of the movie, it was indeed the last time their lives would be affected by the devastation. And in a sense, the last time the moviegoer would be affected, as well.

    I’d love to say that the movie gave me a better understanding of the devastation. And in a small way, maybe it did. But it’s one thing to say that while I was sitting in my padded theater seat a world away. It would be quite another to live among it as your family did.

    Thank you for an extremely well-written post. You articulated what I should’ve been able to.


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