On the one hand, The Impossible seems to have a lot going for it. Based on the true story of a British family that became separated from each other in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, the movie looks like the kind of emotionally-charged, inspirational drama about overcoming adversity that, when done properly, can be enormously effective. And with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts in the lead roles and Juan Antonio Bayona (the director of The Orphanage) behind the camera, there’s very good reason to believe that it will be done properly. The release date is Dec. 21—a strong indication that the producers think it has a good shot at racking up a few Oscar nominations.
On the other hand, as Slate columnist David Haglund has pointed out, there is something a bit disconcerting about a movie that uses the deaths of 200,000 southeast Asians as a backdrop for a story about a family of rich white tourists getting split up and then getting back together. “The Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004 was about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the destruction of homes and lives across south Asia,” writes Haglund. “The Impossible is, so far as one can tell from this trailer, about the uplifting story of five, well-off white people. Which is not to say that the lives of well-off white people don’t matter. But movies like this one create the unmistakable and morally repugnant impression that their lives matter more.”
Of course, Haglund seems to be assuming that the alternative to this—a big budget movie about the tsunami with an all Asian cast—is possible to get financed in today’s market. Given the casting rumours surrounding the proposed live action remake of Akira (Robert Pattinson, James MacAvoy, and Andrew Garfield have all apparently been considered for the part of the Japanese biker), this doesn’t seem to be the case. So can we really blame Bayona for making the focus of the first movie about the Indian Ocean tsunami the stars of Moulin Rouge and Mulholland Drive? A movie that depicts the tragedy from the point-of-view of rich white tourists may not be ideal, but it’s better than no movie at all.