In my opinion…

IMG_11741

There is much chatter about the The Impossible and I am sure more to come this weekend.  I have no issues with criticisms of the film per se. It is a subjective thing. But I would like to contribute to the debate about the ‘whitewashing’ of the film across the broadsheets and internet.

Most of this debate rages amongst people who have no first hand knowledge of the tsunami whatsoever, so I feel that my opinion is relevant and objective also. The following is an extract from my forthcoming ebook on the whole subject of being Tom Holland’s dad. Text in italics is from the book – and additional comments are in normal text.

 

… just a quick riposte to some of the film’s detractors; in particular regarding the absence of Thai people in the film and the over-dramatization of Maria’s injuries. All of the characters in the film are based on real encounters. They are not fictional. Maria and Lucas did rescue a small blonde Swedish boy called Daniel who they hope to meet again once the film is released. Lucas did repatriate a Swedish father called Benstrom with his son in hospital. Henry was helped to look for his children by a German tourist with an injured leg. Khao Lak is a holiday destination and the indiscriminate tsunami brushed and mixed up all before it. Some survived, many did not, but who the Belon family encountered was not an editorial decision by the film-makers.

I am not so arrogant to presume what happened in the actual tsunami as certain commentators are. I don’t know because I wasn’t there. But I have been in Thailand for Christmas in 2010 – at the Holiday Inn on the island of Phi Phi and the entire resort was northern European – and if then, another wave had struck; the injured and deceased would have all been Northern Europeans. But what about the staff? The staff wouldn’t have been blonde and good looking? No, the staff were all Asian and this same demographic applies to the Orchid Beach resort, Khao Lak in 2004. And yes, of course, the staff (indigenous people) were killed and injured in the disaster just like everyone else – but the film, The Impossible concentrates on the Belon family and their story alone. Eighty people alone died in the Orchid Beach Resort – and how many of these victims do we actually see? Not many. How many actual corpses are shown? One, two and even then it is not discernible from where they hail and it is irrelevant anyway. The film-makers concentrated on the Belon story and the people who they encountered. The Thai people depicted in the film are real and I think the film displays the kindness and humanity that Thailand is celebrated for. A villager who dragged Maria to safety and the Thai women who dressed her. In reality, Maria was stripped naked by the wave which was something that could not be shown in the film for obvious reasons. And the Thai doctors and nurses, of course, who saved her life. One particularly asinine reviewer asked the following question of the Thai doctor who administered the first shot of penicillin to Maria Belon and saved her life – where were his family? Er, probably at home I should imagine. The tsunami wreaked particular havoc along the coast. Implicit really. It is hotels and resorts that hug the coast in Thailand and not hospitals –so it follows that the injured will be largely hotel patrons and likely that the medics working at these hospitals will be unaffected and ditto their families. And furthermore, if this journalist wants back stories to every character appearing on screen, then no doubt this same person will complain that the Impossible is too long at six hours… This same riposte applies to the those who have complained that The Impossible is too narrow and does not account for the disater as whole. The disaster that claimed more than a quarter of a million people across more than twenty countries. Good luck to anyone brave enough to try and make this film.

As for Maria’s injuries, she is a remarkable lady. Some reviewers have noted the ‘fuss and tears’ that her character sheds in the film, which is a particularly asinine observation. The last scene of the movie is Maria and her family on board a hospital plane from Thailand, bound for Singapore. This is the point where their story and the film end, but in reality the nightmare for Maria and her family has a long way to run. In Singapore, Maria spent four months in hospital. She had some eighteen operations and was read the last rights on two occasions. The carnage and injury associated with a tsunami are obvious, but less apparent is the silent killer of infection that engulfs people and wreaks havoc after the waters have receded. The ground is pulverised by the water and what is churned up and ingested by people poisons them. Maria was heavily infected and medics worked frantically to save her life as her family looked on. Different cocktails of drugs were used on survivors all over the world as holiday-makers were repatriated home. And when a cure was found for the particular strain of infection pertinent to Thailand, the information was shared by medics worldwide and who knows how many other lives were saved as result.

Another comment that grates is the fact that the Belon family are rich – which as far as I am aware is not yet a crime. Europeans who holiday in Thailand at Christmas do need to have cash and a good thing too for the Thai tourist economy. But because of this fact, are we supposed to feel less sympathy for their plight, or worse, even glee? Should some back packers have been thrown in for good measure to balance things up a little? And aren’t backpackers to Thailand very often privately educated ‘gap yah’ types anyway? Unlike cholera which we in the rich west can avoid – a tsunami is completely indiscriminate – it sweeps all before it and people, rich and poor do their best to survive. And not that it matters anyway, but just for the record, the Belon family are not in fact rich. They are not the masters of the universe. They are a normal middle class family who happened to be stationed in Japan as Henrique worked for a worldwide American company – and no not a bank. Wouldn’t that have played in to the hands of the detractors? And on this subject, Henrique’s anxieties about his job shown in the film before the wave struck were well founded. During Maria’s four month recuperation in Singapore – Henrique’s firm let him go. Nothing further needed.

On to making the on-screen Belon family, English. Yesterday on BBC5 Live (my station of choice) – Mark Kermode – the esteemed critic – had a measured and worthy opinion and points to make on The Impossible, but he did question the decision to make the family British and he wondered if the film would have been better had it remained a Spanish film. The answer to this is simple, we will never know because this film would never have been made as a Spanish film. Even though the film was funded from Spain and it has made its money back in Spain alone – the financiers would never have taken such a risk. As JA Bayona said in Toronto – ‘you try raising $50m to make a Spanish speaking film?’ Sergio Sanchez, the writer of the Impossible put it to me in even more graphic terms –

When they brought their Spanish language film, The Orphanage to the Toronto Film Festival – they decided not to inform the audience that it was a sub-titled film. Five minutes in to the film’s world premiere, a third of the theatre had left.

Film-making is a commercial business where losing one’s shirt is more common than filling one’s boots. The success of the film in Spain has been heartening for the Belon family and I am sure for the film’s producers – but it makes sense even to a financial dullard like myself that setting out to make such a film, the biggest audience reach is the only route to take.

The Asian tsunami of 2004 was a world event – for its sheer size and because of the fact that the world’s population was involved – Thailand being one of the world’s vacation playgrounds.  Such a film needs a world language and the widest possible audience.

I do, however, understand the point that is really being made here. That this film is being made because white westerners died in this tragedy – and there is a lot of truth to this. This is a reality – unpalatable though it is – rooted in first world/third world economics but it is not a fair criticism to throw at the film-makers of The Impossible.

As I say, the point is valid, best demonstrated by the fact that we have yet to see a film based on the Pakistan floods. And we will never see this film either. Firstly, because it will never be made and secondly, because even it were to be made, I wonder whether cinema goers the world over would go to see it. I am sure that there are many stories of enormous fortitude and survival displayed in Pakistan that can be discovered and meticulously researched. But good luck with trying to raise the finance for it, let alone make the film.

I was not in Thailand for the tsunami – but I was there for the making of the film, The Impossible, which I know is my great fortune in more ways than one. And being there, I got to know and love the Belon family, another great privilege. In every sense of the word, Maria is a beautiful woman. Fiercely proud of her family and full of humanity, she would never have allowed this film to be based on her story if it wasn’t a faithful reflection of what happened to her family. She owes her life to a Thai man who dragged her from a swamped jungle. A man she is hoping might come to light now that the film has been released. And Thai doctors and nurses in Thailand who worked tirelessly for her and her family – as depicted in this worthy film.

The film-makers have become friends of my family. They are people I greatly admire. And I am bound to defend them. But this defence here today is not a myopic one. The film has received overwhelming acclaim and attention – a reflection of the extraordinary attention to detail and hard work by the hundreds and hundreds of people who have brought this film to the screen. I don’t think the film is perfect. How many films are? But it is a bloody bold piece of film-making. An extraordinary story, brilliantly recreated by hard work and much talent which is faithful to events as they occurred and the small but noisy criticisms it has received is not valid and I felt moved to respond.

I must feel passionate about it – because the need to write this post woke me up at 5am this morning – and three hours later I am about to publish it.

And if you can’t take my word for it – because I was not there in 2004 – then take the word of Simon Jenkins. Simon was there in Thailand in 2004 and he writes a spirited defence of the film’s authenticity in the Guardian – which is available via @simonjenkins09

 

23 Comments

  1. Dave Ferguson January 5, 2013
    Reply

    Incredibly well said, Dom.
    One other thing that the critics always fail to note when talking about the production is the tens of millions of $$ that the making of “The Impossible” pumped into the local economy, with years of planning trips followed by months of filming.

  2. Andy January 5, 2013
    Reply

    Hi Dom! I was looking at reviews for ‘The Impossible’ and stumbled across your website. Have started to read some of your earlier blogs but thought I would leave a comment for this one.

    At the end of the day, there will always be people who will criticise a film like ‘The Impossible’ no matter how it is portray. I think the points you make are bang on! If the film had focused on lots of families then it would be more like watching a documentary rather than a film and I didn’t pay to go and watch a documentary! The whole point of the film was to retell the story of one family. Surely that is plainly obvious!! The fact that the Belon family were consulted throughout the whole film process just shows how important it was to Bayona that it was portrayed correctly. As you quite rightly say, had it been in French it would struggled financially and I can’t believe anyone would expect someone to come out of a tsunami with a few cuts and bruises. The injuries shown gave a real sense of the pain that people would have gone through.

    I must say that I have heard a huge amount of praise for the film and there was a real ‘WOW’ buzz when I left the cinema on Thursday night. I am so glad that Tom’s performance has been recognised through awards and nominations. Up until Thursday, Christian Bale’s performance in ‘Empire of the Sun’ was my favourite screen performance by a young actor – not any more!! Tom’s portrayal of Lucas was first class!! How he endured such an emotionally and physically demanding role on his screen debut is just amazing! Please pass on my congratulations to him.

    • Dominic January 6, 2013
      Reply

      Andy – heartened to read your comments – thanks very much for taking the time. I normally go for levity and interest on my blog – but felt moved to write that post having read too much guff from our so so worthy liberal elite

    • Martin January 6, 2013
      Reply

      Have to second Andy’s comments and add a hearty “here here” with regard to Tom’s performance. I felt it was right up there with Christian Bale’s performance in Empire of the Sun. You must battling the offers away with sticks right now !

      I also don’t get why people demand a holistic overly PC view of history from art – surely we have access to enough pathways these days to be able to research and develop our own opinions and impressions.

      I guess some people believe we can only be spoonfed the truth – how patronising.

      • Dominic January 6, 2013
        Reply

        Marin – very kind of you, thank you. I must say that i have not had any detractors from your view yet – but let’s wait and see.

  3. Paul January 6, 2013
    Reply

    Well said Dominic. By some peoples logic Les Mis can only be played by French and Macbeth with a Scottish accent?
    A look at the ‘Likes’ and comments on YouTube Thai Trailers (or even ‘Tom Holland Thailand’ on FB), show these are not Thai concerns, so why are they anyone’s?
    As for Tom’s performance; it drew me in like a dementor from Azkaban even at second viewing. He’s more engaging than Natalie Portman in Leon, and I don’t think a Speilburg will ever compare. You have to go back to Tarkovsky and Ivan’s Childhood(1962) to find comparable direction.
    PS. – For those who like research there is a Thai Tsunami Movie: Toranong Srichua’s “2022 Tsunami” AKA “Deathwave” (2009) expresses heartfelt Thai views in a fictional future(see YT).
    PPS. – everyone understands what 12A requires. – I bet your ankle looked worse than Maria’s knee looked on screen.

    • Dominic January 7, 2013
      Reply

      thank you paul – although I take issue with your comment re Portman – which was the best piece of child casting ever and possibly the greatest performance by a child actor also – no surprise that she continues to dazzle today

  4. Valchess January 7, 2013
    Reply

    Hi Dom,

    I have read a lot of reviews (as Google alert helps me not to miss relevant references useful for Tom’s Wiki) and of course it’s impossible not to notice that ideologically driven pattern (you just described it so clearly) repeating once and again in some of them. Perhaps, the most outrageous example is the review in Pittsburg’s “Morning Sun”: “the 228,000 souls washed off the face of the earth… Instead of focusing on them Bayona trains his intrusive camera on an affluent Spanish family of five…” How doesn’t a professional film critic know that in feature film (or in a novel, for that matter) you can only convinsingly depict the tragedy of thousands through a story of particular human beings?! Probably, ideological prejudices along with an almost overwhelmingly pompous sense of moral superiority go ahead of professional judgement and human empathy. As a side result you can find outrageous sentences there like “I was seriously bored by it all after about 15 minutes of observing Watts, in the wake of the tsunami, screaming, grunting and unintentionally flashing her breasts to the lucky adolescent actor playing her son” – although, it’s also “unintentionally” hilarious…

    • Dominic January 7, 2013
      Reply

      quite right and well said – I too read the latter review you quote above and thought it was extremely insensitive to the real life Maria who almost died – and as stunningly ignorant. That young actor who saw her boob – it was a prosthetic you dullard – was my son and at 14 he has greater emotional intelligence that this writer of such guff to understand what was being depicted and that seeing a boob (a plastic one) rather misses the point – as did this writer – by miles.

      • Valchess January 8, 2013
        Reply

        Hi again,

        just to let you know about the latest news from Wikipedia virtual world. In the last three days Tom’s article has been viewed about 18,000 times – really big numbers showing that a lot of people wanted to know more about him (probably after seeing the movie). On the other hand, such a popularity can have a less pleasant side, especially in an open space of Wiki where anyone can “edit” the text: a couple of anonymos persons (with IPs from Bolton and London) have persistently been trying to vandalise the text (by adding some stupid stuff or removing chunks of the text). At the end I decided to complain and quickly got a very efficient reaction from Wiki’s “upstairs”: now the text has a special “semi-protected status” meaning that only registered users can do editing. Hopefully this will resolve the problem with virtual yobs.

        • Dominic January 8, 2013
          Reply

          good man, thank you very much.I am mindful of the internet and what can he said. That said, I have not really got to grip with wiki and have rarely visited tom’s site – so I am grateful to you for your help. 18000 is a big number and if I can divert some of these to my blog where the ebook will be avilable shortly – a book that is the best source of how Tom managed to do what he has done – which I assume is what they want to find out.

          any tips of how to do this gratefully received.

          • Valchess January 8, 2013

            There is already a link to your site in Tom’s article (at the section “External Links”) and there is also a sentence specifically describing “Eclipsed” blog (with a reference) in the text. When you publish e-book I’ll add info about it to there – no problem about that! Of course, this should also be described at your own Wiki page (which, as you know, exists but is in a mess state) – as far as I understand you just didn’t have time to deal with it; so I can only say again that if you write a brief structured text with major facts and references (let it look as a kind of CV) and send it (say as Word file) to me, I’ll easily edit your Wiki page to make it look proper.

          • Dominic January 8, 2013

            very kind of you – thank you – will put it on my list

  5. Reply

    Dominic, after someone sent me your blog post to read, I decided to take a few minute on behalf of other survivors to talk about the film “The Impossible.” This is a movie that will and is helping the world to understand many of the very real things we experienced during the tsunami in Thailand. Your son – as well as the rest of the cast, crew, writers and directors did a great job in creating an honest and frank look at what we experienced.

    I have added more thoughts and impressions at my tsunami survivor website.
    http://phukettsunami.blogspot.com/2013/01/survivors-applaud-impossible.html

    Thanks for being honest and speaking out.

    Rick Von Feldt

    • Dominic January 7, 2013
      Reply

      thank you rick – I was confident about my post knowing the integrity of the film-makers and the family also – but it is heartening to have this affirmed by your good self and other survivors also. And I must say, it is a little boring having to defend something against the liberal elite who seek offense in everything before them. Life is precious and too short. These self loathers could enjoy life a lot more.

  6. Chris Haworth January 7, 2013
    Reply

    Hi Dom, I agree with your comments whole heartedly and most of the responses to them. I thought the film was very powerful both in terms of strong emotional feelings and the gigantic effects of natures natural disasters. It was an excellent story as an example to depict the awesomeness of the pain, the suffering, the luck, the bad luck, the absolute chaos and the spectrum of raw human nature of survival and extraordinary kindness and bravery. Tom was a star not only as an actor portraying this hugely difficult and highly emotional situation but also he has a wonderful sensitive face and screen charisma which will take him far I am sure. So a big bravo to him and all the very very best for his future acting career. From reading your blog one small criticism of the film is that it would have been nice to have a few lines of facts at the end of the film to give it more reality in terms that Maria had 18 ops over several months and nearly died twice, and that 80 people ( of all nationalities ) died in the hotel etc. We felt that there was perhaps a small void there for what was an outstanding film.

    • Dominic January 7, 2013
      Reply

      thank you very much Chris – interesting that you should ref the ommission of any real information about the family to conclude the story. I suggested this very thing myself and feel that as is they are only telling half of the story and therefore missing a trick. Plus it would have headed off some of the more pureile crticisms from the not very bright.

  7. Martin January 10, 2013
    Reply

    Hi Dom

    After watching that speech of Tom’s – please keep him away from Politics as he’d be far too good at it and that would be such a terrible waste of his talents.

    Martin

    • Dominic January 10, 2013
      Reply

      Acomment that made me smile and nod sagely, well done and thank you

  8. Dennis Keller January 10, 2013
    Reply

    Great comments about the film! I have to agree.

    My daughter Annie and I saw the film in the states, and were moved by the kindness of the local people. Annie thought Maria should have kept the door that served as her stretcher as a remembrance!

    Your son stole the film from some accomplished actors, and my daughter now has a new crush! I’d been trying to interest her in a summer trip to the UK, and suddenly she’s warming up to the idea!

    You must be very proud.

    • Dominic January 10, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you Dennis – I must say that i am worried about these girl crushes that seem to be developing – Im hoping it will all die down soon and Tom can get back to a little bit of normal life. Thanks for your kind comments.

Leave your comment