Feb 11 2013
The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 killed at least 227,898 people. Around a third of these were children. The economy of coastal south-east Asia was devastated, with the loss in some places of two thirds of the boats on which fisherfolk depended. The environment was irreversibly defiled. Since many of the bodies were never found, psychological trauma was compounded by the tradition in many of the areas affected that the dead must always be buried by a family member.
Scope here for drama you might have thought. Yet The Impossible, like Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter before it, concentrates not on the plight of the indigenous victims but on the less harrowing experiences of privileged white visitors. The film’s winsomely western family, headed by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, experience little more than separation anxiety and survivable injury before jetting safely homewards.
This scenario has provoked outrage, not least on this site. The New York Times found the film “less an examination of mass destruction than the tale of a spoiled holiday”. Still, the indicted parties have alibis to hand.
According to Watts, “Fifty per cent of the people that died in Thailand were tourists.” Good try, but perhaps a little disingenuous. Holiday paradise Thailand, with its 5,400 deaths, was actually at the margins of the tragedy. Indonesia alone suffered 130,700 deaths, largely of low-income Acehnese people; the figure for the UK, whence The Impossible’s family appears to hail, is 149.