“The Impossible” – Brilliant Disaster Movie

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about The Impossible (J.A. Bayona, 2012). This movie tells the story of one family that got caught up in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (also known as the Boxing Day Tsunami in the United Kingdom) in Thailand.

A summary about the movie on IMDb is as follows.

A regular family – Maria, Henry and their three kids – travel to Thailand to spend Christmas. They get an upgrade to a villa on the coastline. After settling in and exchanging gifts, they go to the pool, like so many other tourists. A perfect paradise vacation until a distant noise becomes a roar. There is no time to escape from the tsunami; Maria and her eldest are swept one way, Henry and the youngest another. Who will survive, and what will become of them?


The 2004 event, followed by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami (3/11), greatly raised awareness around the world of the incredible power of both earthquakes and tsunami. While these events are often classified as ‘natural disasters’, it is important to stress that the categorisation of ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ disasters is largely unhelpful and misleading. Although the trigger for the two types of disaster may be different, the fact that either becomes a disaster is largely a result of how human society is prepared and responds to the event. This is something I have discussed in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan as well as the article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“.

In 2019 I travelled to Thailand and was very close to the hotel where The Impossible was partly filmed. It was very tempting to go and visit due to my interest in ‘contents tourism‘. However, even 15 years on, there were still plenty of signs of the impact of the tsunami in the area and memorialisation, including some small (over-priced) museums, appealing to the ‘dark tourism‘ market.

Returning to the movie, in terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, The Impossible has 13 out of the 17. As with most historical movies (at least the non-Japanese ones) there was no attempt to not distance the movie, with it being fully set in 2004.

Also see Disasters and Manga – Gekitō Magnitude 7.7 for a discussion about a different tsunami in relation to Thailand.

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