When Can I Watch 'The Impossible' with My Kids?

When Can I Watch 'The Impossible' with My Kids?

Jan 08, 2013


How did you guys handle Sandy Hook with your kids?
The tragedy in Connecticut had my wife and I wrestling with what has become a very real problem as of late. How much do you tell your kids about horrible incidents that happen in the world… especially ones that occur in settings with which they’re extremely familiar? 
As some of you may know, my wife’s an elementary school teacher, and our oldest son is in third grade. The schools, in the wake of Sandy Hook, were very proactive but cautiously hesitant when it came down to addressing the notion of safety in the classroom. Basically, they were prepping the teachers to be prepared should a kid come into school with questions. Few did. My nine-year-old son handled the story far better than I imagined he would. And while we sheltered him from newscasts detailing the shooting, we did feel we had to make him aware that terrible tragedies can occur in our daily lives when we least expect them. 
That, to a certain extent, is a driving force of a movie that’s expanding to more theaters this week: J.A. Bayona’s fantastically gripping The Impossible. Set during the tsunami wave of 2004, it follows a vacationing family as they endure Mother Nature’s wrath and fight the odds to reunite. But much like the families in Connecticut, they are blindsided by an unexpected attack, and they dig deep to find the strength to endure in the hours afterward. 
The Impossible is a movie I wanted to discuss in the weekly When Can I Watch column – because, as I noted in a review, I believe it to be one of the best films of 2012. The Sandy Hook tragedy gave it a fresh context. So, let’s figure out when you can watch The Impossible with your kids. 
Red Flags
Bayona’s film ultimately ends up being an inspirational and unbelievably triumphant movie about human endurance and familial love – points I’ll expand on in the Green Lights section. But before we get to those soaring highs, there are some crushing Red Flags to point out. 
Mainly, your kids might be terrified by the intensity of the tsunami wave. Bayona and his crew couldn’t soften the blow of the wave. It is a devastating special effect, a pummeling force of nature that wipes out all in its path. And the impact scene, which submerges Naomi Watts, seems to last an eternity as her character, Maria, reaches the surface but fights through chunks of debris and rushing waters to reach her oldest son (Tom Holland), who also gets caught up in the wave. 
It’s a miracle of modern moviemaking… but it might be too intense and realistic for your youngest kids. 
In the wake of the wave, the family at the heart of Bayona’s film endures some difficult hardships that will have your children concerned. Notably, Maria is dying from a combination of blood loss and infection after her leg is brutally wounded in the tsunami. Again, Bayona doesn’t pull his punches–nor should he. And while The Impossible isn’t unnecessarily graphic, both the director and his leading lady, Watts, commit to the pain and suffering Maria suffers as she fights a near-certain death to stay strong enough that her son won’t grow too concerned. The film isn’t graphic. At the same time, it doesn’t simplify the devastation caused by the wave. It’s a fine line to walk, and I feel Bayona erred on the side of caution more often than not, thus making this a movie that parents could consider bringing their children to.
And yet, one or two moments did jump out. Watts is shown topless immediately following the wave. Nothing is gratuitous. Maria’s shirt has torn, and the actress exposes herself briefly. (I think it’s in Watts’ contract to be topless in virtually every film.) Some kids might not even notice. My nine-year-old son’s right at the age where that would probably take him out of he movie long enough to be a distraction. Also, because the emphasis falls on families, and the way the wave separated kids from parents, there’s a lot of “kids in peril” in The Impossible. Some of that can be spun to celebrate, as I’ll try in the next section. But this could unnerve your children as they check The Impossible out. 
That being said, The Impossible is more restrained than you might imagine, showing the atrocities of the tsunami without reveling in the human suffering and cinematic gore that could have painted the film a bloodier red. Now, on to Green. 
Green Lights
Parents are going to embrace The Impossible, which can be guilty of pushing its fair share of manipulative emotional buttons but – in my opinion – earns the bulk of its sentiment. 
The Green Lights boil down to performances, with families sitting down to share the movie being able to ask, “What do you think we would do if we were in a similar situation?” Watts and Ewan McGregor are fantastic as parents keeping themselves together so as not to freak out their already unnerved kids. There’s a fantastic scene – part of the “kids in peril” – where the injured Watts asks Holland’s character to help fellow grieving parents holed up in a crowded hospital to find their missing loved ones. She knows that the task will keep the son busy. She wants to distract him from the misery. And it works, albeit temporarily. We’d have to do that with our oldest – a sensitive soul who’d find comfort in helping others. The scene rings with such truth, it’s bound to connect with kids and parents. 
There are several other scenes of characters putting their personal issues aside to help those in need, whether it be lending a cell phone with a dying battery so someone can make a call, or sharing a can of soda because you don’t know when you’ll eat or drink next.
Too much of this could have been dismissed, but Watts, McGregor and the boys cast as their sons imbue the production with such heartfelt concern that The Impossible routinely swells with genuine emotional concern. It’s a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows as you invest fully in the family’s quest to reunite.  Your own children likely will see themselves in the young kids played on-screen (none of whom are dramatically hurt, it bears noting), giving them a window into a movie that might not normally interest them. 
And parents should have a full box of tissues handy for some of the concluding scenes. (No spoilers here.)
How old do I think your kids should be?
Appropriate Age
Our oldest boy, who’s nine, is right on the cusp. I think he’d be concerned by the impact of the tsunami, where older kids would think the effects were impressive and eventually hone in on the survival story that takes over the film’s second half. 
Perhaps later this year, when our oldest has a few more films under his belt, he could handle the intensity of the scenes in The Impossible. For now – acknowledging that every kid is different, and parents make the best individual judges – I’d say that the average 11- or 12-year-old kid could appreciate the emotions that are embedded in The Impossible, without being too disturbed by the devastation wrought on-screen. 
The movie’s a triumph. I do hope that you are able to share it with your kids, for while it’s scary (for all ages), the messages of endurance and love are as powerful as the tsunami showcased, and are worth celebrating. 

If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.

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