Director: J.A. Bayona
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Released: December 21, 2012
Best Actress - Naomi Watts (lost to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Lining's Playbook)
This is a true story about a European family vacationing in Thailand for Christmas when they were struck by the 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people. I remember this tsunami and that it killed many people, but what I hadn't realize was how massive it was and how many countries it hit. I thought that Thailand, Indonesia, India, and other countries in that area were hit, but there were also countries on the east coast of Africa that were also hit like Somalia, Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa! Not only are some of those countries not that close to each other, but they are nowhere near Thailand and Indonesia! They didn't suffer as much damage or as many casualties as the Southeast Asian countries that were hit, but that still shocked me. And I had also thought that the tsunami had hit every place at once, but it hadn't. It first hit Indonesia, which had the most casualties, then it hit Thailand and India two hours later and the African countries even later.
The family the movie is centered around - a couple, Maria and Henry (portrayed by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) with three young boys (the oldest is no more than 12; the youngest around 5) is British, but the real-life family that went through this awful ordeal were actually Spanish. I don't mind that they changed the nationality of the family. True, they could have easily cast Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas and three young Spanish boys as the family, but then you would have to have the movie in Spanish and I'm guessing the filmmakers thought it would be better for it to be in English to get a bigger audience. I should mention that the director, producer, and writer are all Spanish and they collaborated with Maria Belon, the woman who Naomi Watts plays, so if all of them are okay with a real-life Spanish family being portrayed by a non-Spanish family, then it shouldn't be that big of a deal. And what country they are from really shouldn't matter...their nationality and what language they speak is not important in the grand scheme of things.
The Bennett family has gone to Thailand for a family vacation over the Christmas holiday. Apparently there were a lot of Europeans who were there on holiday when this tragedy occurred. I don't know if this is a common thing for Europeans to take family vacations to other continents, but to me, that idea is just foreign. I have never been, nor do I know anybody who has taken a family vacation to an entirely different country, let alone continent. Now the family is very well off as the mother is a doctor and the father works in business, but why not just go to the many beaches that their own country has to offer? They don't have family in Thailand and it's their first time there so I'm not really sure why they chose to go there, but where they are staying is a very nice resort for people with money.
We see them having a great time, playing on the beach and swimming in the ocean and the pool (why do you need a pool when you are already on the beach?) and enjoying their Christmas together. The day after Christmas they are all out by the pool when suddenly strange things start happening. The wind picks up. Birds are rapidly flying away from the ocean. A small lizard quickly hides underground. One of Maria's pages from her book rips away and lands on a glass wall. When she walks over to pick it up, we see the reflection behind her and she looks at it in horror as she sees the disturbing sight of an 80-foot palm tree just disappear as though it's easily been toppled over, and then sees more trees disappear. That was a really scary and effective image. Before anyone has time to react (Maria quickly yells at her husband who is in the pool with the two youngest boys), this huge wave appears and engulfs the resort.
The effects are very impressive and it's horrifying to think that this actually happened and this family went through this. But as I was watching, I couldn't help thinking why nobody was warned about this and why they weren't trying to evacuate the place. I watched a documentary on the tsunami and found out why this was. There are about 80 censors in the Pacific Ocean that alert a tsunami detection center in Hawaii if there is a change in the ocean that could cause a tsunami and then they can alert other countries that could be affected by this and give people plenty of time to evacuate beaches and get to safety. At the time of the 2004 tsunami, such a system did not exist in the Indian Ocean and there was only time to alert the nations of Africa when the tsunami struck.
Maria and Lucas, the oldest son, are separated from Henry and the two younger boys, Simon and Thomas. When watching this movie, I wasn't familiar with this family's story and had no idea if they all survived or not. I figured at least one of the adults had survived to be able to tell their story, but it you watch the trailer (which I did after I watched the movie), you already know that everyone survives the initial impact of the wave. Surprisingly everyone gets out unscathed aside from a few bruises and scratches. Maria gets the worse of the injuries. She is poked in the stomach by branches while the water is rushing all around her and when she and Lucas are walking to find a tree to climb up, there is a huge piece of skin hanging off the back of her leg and you see a huge chunk of her muscle. (The make-up artists did a great job.) Surprisingly, Maria never really cried out in pain (except when she's climbing the tree) and I figured that it had to be due to shock and the will to survive. The huge chunk of missing skin is not the most graphic part of the movie. No, that would be the scene where Maria is in the hospital and throws up. It was so graphic that I thought she was throwing up her intestines (I know, I know), but later found out it was branches and leaves she had swallowed.
The film focuses on Maria and Lucas quite a lot during the first third, but then turns its attention to the others. I thought they were going to show the tsunami through their POV, but instead we find out what happened to them through a quick narrative: Henry was scared when he couldn't find his sons, but was quickly relieved when he saw them in a tree. How these two young boys managed to get out with barely a scrape and quickly found a way out of harm's way, (with presumably no help), I'll never know, but the movie doesn't think it's important to show us how they survived, but that they just did. Henry sends his two children on a bus that is going to the mountains and asks a woman to look after them so he can continue his search for his wife and eldest son. I understand that he wanted to continue to look for them in case they needed help, but I thought he should have stayed with the children he already knew were alive so they would at least still have one live parent left. The best scenario would be that someone had already found Maria and Lucas and was helping them (which was what happened). The worst scenario would be that they are both dead and there would be nothing he could do about it anyway.
This movie made me cry several times so I'm glad I watched it alone in the privacy of my apartment. While Thomas is in the hospital he helps family members be reunited and tries to help find others' loved one. One Swedish father and son are reunited and I bawled. I bawled when Henry called family members back home to tell them he was okay but didn't know the fate of his wife and Lucas yet. And I bawled when they were all reunited, though, I have to wonder how accurate their reunion was. It seemed awfully convenient that Henry ended up at the hospital his wife and son were at, plus the two young boys were there too. I have to imagine that this did not happen in real life, but it was more cinematic and dramatic this way. It still amazes me that this actually happened to this family and they are all very lucky to be alive!