The sad story of a white family who lost all their luggage while having to see lots of Thai people dying in a tsunami.
The Impossible is a terrible movie even before you realize it’s a film that places the suffering of white people far, far above the suffering of brown people. But the fact that this is a movie set in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami that has no time for Thai people only makes the badness that much worse.
he two halves of the family don’t know the other survived, and they must make their way through the post-apocalyptic terrain of Thailand to find each other. Along the way they encounter many white tourists and very, very few Thai people. One of whom is an aboriginal medicine man or something, which likely reflects the totality of Thai culture, right?
I want to try a thought experiment here. Imagine if a Thai company made a movie about 9/11, and that movie was specifically about the experiences of a Thai family in Tower One. Don’t worry, it’s not a bummer - it’s an uplifting story of how these people escaped death and got home safely. But imagine that, in this Thai movie, every character is Thai. There are white people running around in the background, and two of them have a couple of lines, but every single character in this story about the attack on the World Trade Center is Thai.
You’d think this was pretty weird, I bet. You’d think it displayed provincial thinking, perhaps even a cinematic xenophobia. You’d probably even laugh at how petty and small-minded this film seems. You’d dismiss it.
Turn it around (and multiply the death toll of the event by almost 100) and you have The Impossible. While I understand that white tourists would end up congregating with other white tourists after a disaster like this, the fact that the movie relegates all Thai people to background players is baffling. There are three Thai people with lines in the film: the aforementioned medicine man, who speaks only in un-subtitled Thai, a concierge at the resort (whose fate is unknown, uncared about) and a nurse at the hospital where mom, with a nasty, nasty leg wound, ends up. Maybe there’s a fourth, a guy who drives a truck, but I can’t remember if he actually has a line or just mimes looking at his watch to indicate he’s in a hurry.
“Wait,” you argue. “This is based on a true story. Maybe in the true story these people really had no contact whatsoever with Thai locals.” Maybe, but it’s worth noting that the real family is Spanish, a swarthy bunch who look nothing like the milk pale, fair-haired McGregor and Watts. If we’re taking liberties, let’s take a couple more - like the few liberties needed to humanize the Thai people who were devastated by the tsunami. By the end of The Impossible I was actually laughing at how assiduously the film kept Thai people backgrounded in every single scene; they’re always there, but as a faceless refugee mass. They are often literally obstacles the white characters must run around.