This Christmas, four years after its release, I finally got the chance to watch The Impossible, the disaster cum survival movie based on a real life story during the 2004 Tsunami. It’s a moving story about a family, led by Maria and Henry, who are separated by the force of the tsunami and end up in two parties before eventually being reunited against all the odds. The story unfurls with this beautiful, happy family enjoying the holiday of a lifetime, bathed in a warm, peachy glow. This idealistic set-up has to mean that something tragic is going to happen, and inevitably it does.
Even the slight hints that things are untoward in the opening sequences are foreshadows of deeper character issues. For example, the oldest son, Lucas, is irritated with his younger brother, Simon, because he’s always fearful. Later in the story, Simon’s fear is one of the things that Henry has to battle with in order to survive, whereas Lucas is the one who goes on the more interesting character transformation in which his natural selfishness is converted to selflessness when he careers around the hospital searching for other patient’s relatives.
The Impossible is named as such because of the miracle of a family who have all had a close brush with death surviving – shaken, battered and bruised, but whole – and finding one another again. But I had to ask myself, why that family and not many other families who did lose their loved ones? It’s the universal question of why them and not someone else? Is providence more on their side than any other family or is it just chance – a chucking together of circumstances and events like a random selection of objects being thrown into a bin? Laying aside the fact that this a movie and therefore structured to make the odds stacked against our heroes as high as possible, this is the actual situation that the real life Maria Belon and Quique Alvarez, whom our fictional characters are based on, had to face. Maria suffered deep internal bleeding and trauma after the wave hit her and even though she found Lucas alive shortly after coming up out of the water, she was convinced that the rest of her family couldn’t have been so lucky (The Mirror, 5th Jan 2013). If she was that certain that they had perished, how much more intense must have been her joy when she did find them alive again!
Whilst not wishing to trivialise the lives of those who die, miracles do happen. Real life stories of people surviving against the odds are popular and arise in secular as well as religious media. Just one example: in November 2010 the BBC reported on an 18 month old baby who survived completely unscathed after falling from a six-story window in Paris. The infant bounced on the awning of a café below and was then caught in the arms of a doctor who happened to be passing below. Such stories are surprising and awe-inspiring because they go against our natural expectations under such circumstances, which in this case would have been the death of the child.
In the midst of challenging circumstances, I believe in a God who has purposes and plans for good and is able to take someone out of a threatening situation and place them, quivering and shaking, onto high places. And if it comes down to why her and not him, we could ask the same question as to why God didn’t simply demonstrate his power by flying Jesus down off the cross when, as Christians believe, he was his very own Son? The answer is that He had a much bigger purpose at hand, beyond what any of his disciples could see at the time. Yes, there are the obvious miracles of a physical life being saved, but there are also the miracles that take place under the surface and at an oblique angle. The events that took place in The Impossible are indeed miraculous, but so is the conception and birth of every child, so was the changed heart of the Apostle Paul (from a Jesus-hater to a Jesus-proclaimer) and so is the fact that our whole universe holds together in such finely tuned balance.