Juan Antonio Bayona, a Spanish director as his name equally suggests, decided to base his new movie on a true story of a Spanish family who survived the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Pictures are still freshly printed in our collective memory, which makes it quite risky to adapt the natural disaster on screen. Nevertheless, Bayona didn’t seem to be interested in the spectacular rendering of the wave. Instead of causing tension, he concentrates on the characters, their desperation and the courage to hold on. Above all, the focus lies on hope. The hope to survive, the hope to find back the people you’ve lost and hope to recover the life you’ve had before. However, although Bayona is less interested in the spectacular effects of the disaster, some parts are rendered in a ‘Spielbergian manner’, which makes us memorize this misfortune even longer than we thought it would.
The story starts when a family flies to Thailand to spend their Christmas holidays under the sun. What was meant to be a pleasant and idyllic trip turned out to be a disaster for each one of the family members. When the 98-foot-high wave destroys the houses, lifts cars and causes complete chaos, Maria (Naomi Watts) and her oldest son (Tom Holland) are separated from Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their two younger boys, Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Once the huge wave crossed the coast the plot is basically limited to the questions ‘Who will survive?’ and ‘Will they find each other back?’.
However, I feel like it's not the first movie that primarily focuses on American tourists as victims of a natural disaster. What happened to the local people and how are they able to move on after they’ve lost everything they’ve ever known? At first it seems quite pretentious but we have to bear in mind that the movie is based on a true story of the Belon family who wanted to spend Christmas in Thailand. A story in which everyone seemingly impossible survives is often regarded as commonplace. Nevertheless, once we see it through, the intention is not so much to reconstruct the horror they’ve been through, but we’re somehow invited to use our imagination and think about these people’s future. How will these survivors ever be able to place the trauma and how will they remember it, if they are ever willing to recall this gruesome event in history.