Film: The Impossible

Posted on December 11, 2012

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the impossible

New Year’s Day sees the release of The Impossible, the first feature length dramatisation of the 2004 Tsunami – an ambitious retelling of one family’s true account of that day, starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.

I feel quite apprehensive about this film coming out. I was in Koh Lanta that day, an island in the far south of Thailand below Krabi, which is around 70kms from Ko Phi Phi – the island that was devastated by the boxing day waves because it was hit by the first wave that came from the earthquake in the Indian Ocean that day, where horrendously the waves came at the island from both sides. Although The Impossible is set at Khao Lak, around 70km north of Phuket – also one of the worst hit coastal areas of Thailand.

I was woken up around 9am on Boxing Day, having only been to bed around 6am, so to describe my head as foggy is a bit of an understatement. It was the lack of sleep and copious christmas celebrations that forced me to covered my ears with my pillow when a strange noise invaded my dreams. The persistent crunching eventually stirred my curiosity and as I looked out the window of my hut (which was on stilts) what I saw in front of me I shall never forget. Debris – wood, chairs, beach items, things I couldn’t put a name to – so much of it that it crunched as it flowed under my hut carried by a volume of water and a pace so unnatural that I literally just stared at it, puzzled, for what felt like an eternity, waiting for it to – expecting it to – stop. It eventually did, it flowed back out really fast, and I ran down to the beach to find out what was going on. I’d just done my rescue diver qualification and something was pulling me in that direction. When I got there, I saw all the water disappear much farther out  than was natural, then gather itself into a massive wave and head back to the shore picking up pace and volume.

What happened next, and over the course of the following days, weeks and years will be forever be etched on my mind. It’s not haunted me in my dreams as such, my subconscious has blocked it out – but the devastation, human loss and general horror taught me rather sharply a rather stringent philosophy. There is no god. There is no such thing as meant to be or destiny. There is only coincidence.

Coincidence is the result of me feeling cramped in the beach hut I’d previous been staying in, which post-waves no longer existed. Coincidence is me moving to a hut on stilts, because it was bigger and relatively inexpensive for its size. Coincidence was that hut being situated further back from the beach, with an empty stream behind it that opened out onto the beach, ultimately taking a lot of the volume of the water and breaking the wave.

There is ultimately no reason other than pure coincidence why I was on Koh Lanta that day instead of Phi Phi, a trip I had planned to take that day but had realised I would be too hungover for. Koh Lanta saw two massive waves, a mere fraction of the size of what Phi Phi and Phuket saw. By the time the waves came to Lanta, we realise they’d lost some of their kinetic energy by the islands they’d hit along the way.

Until that moment I had often found myself thinking I had good luck, good fortune if you will – when things didn’t go my way they ‘weren’t mean to be’. I felt like when things were good, it was because my stars were aligned or someone was watching over me.

I supposed for me there was nothing more profoundly un-spiritual than experiencing – and surviving – the world’s largest known natural disaster.

It will be interesting to see what questions this film brings up, and any potential answers it will offer.

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