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The Impossible or the Abhorrent?

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I'm not opposed to watching drama films based on real life events. I've shamelessly wept at Pearl Harbor, grimaced at Schindler's List and been moved by United 93. Often, these films are educational, exposing a wide audience to horrifying moments in history in a format that is accessible and easily concealed as entertainment.

The Impossible documents the true story of a Spanish family who are on vacation in Thailand when the Boxing Day Tsunami strikes. The film was promoted on the eighth anniversary of the natural disaster, which claimed some 230,000 people and wounding countless more.

I lived in Bangkok at the time, and saw first-hand the devastating affect the disaster had on families. Indeed, the wall of water claimed the lives of children and teachers in my school, ripping apart communities and leaving unimaginable pain and loss behind. New Year was a solemn one, where celebrations took a backseat as we began to learn of the sheer magnitude of the disaster.

Perhaps I'm biased. I was too close to the situation, too familiar with the suffering, too aware of the impact. Because of this, the idea of two overpaid A-listers profiting from such a tragedy leaves a bitter taste in my life. And it hardly helps when the Daily Mail commends Watts for playing an 'unflattering' role, because she isn't caked in make-up and expensive clothing, rather than focus on the very real story behind her character.

That isn't to say that Watts' acting was overlooked. The Independent commends her for an "amazing performance", while another journalist asserts that she has become a "front runner for an Academy Award." The movie is awash with flattery too, with The Chicago Sun Times labelling it as "one of the best films of the year" and the Guardian calling it a "power drama that puts the viewer right in the moment at every stage."

However, for all its glowing reviews, the film is certainly not immune to mainstream criticism. The Independent labels the depiction of the struggle of one Western tourist family as 'tactless', with only a nod towards the local impact of the tsunami. Indeed, many of the film's extras were locals who lost family and friends, yet their very real stories were overlooked. The brutality of nature meets the resilience of love in a film where, in typical Hollywood fashion, the latter triumphs. That isn't to say the film is unrealistic, but I can't help but think it would have been more poignant, and more of a tribute to the victims, if they had focussed on a more solemn ending.

And then there's the timing of the film. Boxing Day is sure to conjure up bad memories for those caught up in the tragedy, so it seems insensitive to release the high profile film at this time of year. Indeed, the Daily Mail reported that survivors were left horrified after watching the trailer in the Christmas period, labelling it "the antithesis of entertainment."

Of course, you could draw parallels with 9/11 films. The first high profile 9/11 film was made just five years after the attacks, and released a month prior to the anniversary. It too featured high profile actors and too features a happy ending. Perhaps the difference here is the scale of the event, and the nature, or the fact that it is harder to discriminate in nationality. 9/11 films, for the most part, tell a multitude of stories, instead of a rather isolated one.

Either way, The Impossible has generated a wave of opinions. While some commend the film for exposing the devastation caused by the tsunami, others feel it is tactless and disregards many of the victims altogether. As David Nickerson puts it, "The Impossible displays a shameful lack of morality and basic human compassion. This is poorly timed and wholly immoral, they will be getting a penny from me."