The Impossible trailer: A tragedy of the white and privileged

Don’t worry, this isn’t the start of “cultural sensitivity watch” on The Consumption. But just take a look at the trailer for The Impossible (which is playing in front of The Master) and tell me it doesn’t make you at least a little uncomfortable. Of all the stories that can be told about the tsunami that hit the Thai coast in 2004, this is what they settle on?

Because it follows the usual trailer strategy of leaving no plot element unspoiled, here’s what we know: Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts are an attractive, nearly pigment-free couple with three adorable children, enjoying their time at a moderately upscale resort in Thailand. They’re separated by a flood, but none of them are particularly injured, and they spend a few days/weeks trying to find each other. The experience likely brings them closer together, and they interact with some locals and take part in cultural experiences that make them better people. I’m not heartless — I admit that getting separated from your family by an onslaught of water would be an unpleasant experience. But compared to the effect on the locals, it’s basically just a particularly shitty vacation.

I’ve been trying to think of reasons to focus on this story that don’t just boil down to “we only make movies about white people.” The obvious would be that McGregor and Watts are meant as entry characters — if your central characters are outsiders, it gives a reason to explain things to the audience that would be obvious to natives. But the core of the tragedy here is homes destroyed, families torn apart and lives lost. Not exactly impenetrable subject matter, and certainly more sympathetic than a family on holidays. I wouldn’t expect the film to get into the way that entire communities were displaced, and won’t come back because the emergency measures led to appropriation of that land for the sake of development. That’s not a very Hollywood story to delve into. But the rest of it?

One small blessing: At least the protagonists aren’t American. I guess that counts as some sort of progress. But between the U2 song, the explicit reference to the triumph of the human spirit and that ridiculous shot of Naomi Watts bursting from the water in slow-motion, I can’t remember having a more viscerally negative reaction to a trailer in a very long time.

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