December 26, 2004 a deadly tsunami hit the South East Coast of Asia and changed the lives of countless families forever. This is one of those stories.
A plane flies over the ocean. Maria Belon (Naomi Watts) is reading when a single page out of her book falls to the floor. She leans into the aisle of the plane to retrieve the page. A few moments later, her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) asks if they remembered to turn on the alarms before they left. She assures him that it was the last thing she checked before they left. But he insists that he was the last one out, and she corrects him only to find out he went back into the house and forgot to set the alarm. She jokes about the worst that could happen, and they have a laugh before turbulence picks up rocking the plane.
Henry reassures her that it’s nothing to be worried of when their middle son, Thomas (Samuel Joslin), walks over to Maria and complains that his older brother, Lucas, won’t talk to him. She switches seats with Thomas so that he can talk with the youngest child, Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Maria sees Lucas (Tom Holland) listening to his iPod and pulls off his headphones. The turbulence continues as they go in for a landing and she tells him to be a bit nicer as Thomas is just a bit scared. The turbulence makes Maria very tense which makes Lucas laugh pointing out that Thomas’ fear must come from Maria.
The plane touches down in Khao Lak, Thailand. It’s Christmas Eve and the family steps out of a minivan and at the entrance of a newly renovated resort. The bellhop asks where they are from, and Henry tells the man that the family lives in Japan Maria is a doctor who is taking care of the kids rather than practicing, while Henry works for a corporation that has an office in Japan. The bellhop shows them the view of the beach from their room and leaves them to get settled in.
That night, numerous families and couples eat dinner the Belons comfortably nestled in among them and enjoying themselves. Then all the guests go down the shore for a special ceremony where they light little candle lanterns and release them into the sky. Simon points out that his lantern is flying off in a different direction, and Henry lifts him onto his shoulders so he can have a better view. Afterwards, he and Maria put the kids to bed and go off to drink some wine.
The next morning, Henry mans a video camera and follows Maria into the kids rooms surprising them for Christmas! The boys follow a trail of chocolate coins out to the deck of the house. After the boys open their presents, they go running to the shore and go for a swim. Putting on snorkels, they go and observe the exotic fish and corral beneath the shore. Later that night, Thomas can’t get to sleep so he wanders into Maria and Henry’s room and cuddles with Maria asking her if she’d like to watch the stars. She tells him maybe tomorrow.
Morning comes and Maria scolds Henry for using his Blackberry. He tells her that he received a text from work a co-worker received a two year extension on their contract, which means that he and Mark are being paid to do the same job. Such a redundancy seems to indicate that Henry might be fired soon, but Maria insists that firing Henry would be too expensive for the company. Henry muses that he can’t exactly afford to lose his job with a family to provide for. Maria tells him that she can go back to work. Henry asks if she’d practice in Japan, but she suggests working back “home” meaning England. Henry tells her that they can talk about it later and goes off to play with the kids.
As Maria starts reading and Henry plays with the children, a heavy wind picks up. Her page is blown away, and she follows it over to a glass window. When she reaches it, she sees that the window is shaking. More and more people become aware of the vibrations and turn towards the shore. Henry lobs the red ball off, and Lucas goes to recover it…but as he does he hears the sharp squawking of birds above: desperately racing away from the shore. A deafening roar picks up, and Henry holds onto Thomas and Simon’s wrists tightly. In the reflection of the glass behind Maria, we see a massive tidal wave coming towards the shore towering over palm trees and tearing them down.
A tidal wave strikes the shore and surges forward buildings and guests disappearing beneath the murky brown water. Henry calls out to Lucas and tells him to run before picking up Thomas and Simon and pushing forward in the water, but they quickly disappear beneath the waves. Maria screams for Lucas as the waves reach the edge of the pool; Lucas dives in avoiding the pummel of debris and screaming out underwater. As the wave surges towards Maria, she clutches her book tight and closes her eyes.
The world goes dark, and we hear the sloshing of water. Bloody and battered, Maria clings to a palm tree that’s still standing water smashing around her screaming for help. We see the resort has been almost completely flooded. She sees Lucas screaming our for help as he is thrown past, struggling to keep his head above water. She lets go of the base of the tree and goes rushing after him, only to have a piece of debris embed itself in her abdomen. The water around her is stained with her blood, and she shoots past Lucas as he catches into a piece of debris. Though she tells him to hold on, seeing her rushing away he lets go in order to follow her. As he moves towards a nearby mattress, she orders him to get on it. It gets closer and closer, and Maria tries to force her way on reaching out her hand to grab Lucas’. But before they can climb onto the mattress, it drives straight into a telephone line which sends both of them tumbling back into the water. When they re-emerge they are horrified to see a car drive by them right as another wave shoots towards them.
The second wave drags Lucas under and batters him relentlessly with debris until he emerges and finds a concrete tower leg to hold onto. He calls out to his mother and father and sees Maria not far off he swims to her and she towards him and they float down with the current. Maria quietly comforts him and together they find a downed palm tree and hold onto it. When they’re certain that the worst has past, they move forward through tall grass and try to emerge on dry land. As they do, Lucas sees that Maria’s thigh has a large chunk of ragged flesh hanging from it and the lower half of her breast has been cut to ribbons. As she notices how bad the damage is, she encourages Lucas to go ahead of her. They emerge from the grass to see the ruins of what might have been a village.
Maria quickly wraps up her damaged leg in a make shift splint and Lucas helps her limp forward they hear a little boy crying out for help. She says that they find the boy and says that it might be Simon or Thomas, but Lucas screams that his brothers are dead. He insists that they climb a tree just in case another wave comes but she tells him that it’s what they have to do even it is the last thing they do. They follow the sound and see a little boy named Daniel covered under debris. Lucas carries the boy on his back and the trio head towards the nearest tree. As they climb it, Lucas sees a can of soda floating in the water and snags it. Lucas climbs the tree with Daniel and tells Maria he’s coming down to help her, but she insists that she can do it despite her injuries. She struggles and eventually assents to Lucas helping her climb the tree. Time passes and Lucas opens the soda handing it to Maria. She takes a sip and hands it to Daniel who takes a big gulp and hands it back. Daniel pets her head, and she holds his hand to comfort him.
Scenes of devastation bodies floating in the water, crabs scuttling over them the wrecked remains of what was once the flourishing Thai coast. Lucas wakes up to see Maria’s eyes are closed, and fears she might be dead until he notices her breathing. She opens her eyes she can hear something: Lucas looks out and sees several men walking through the destruction. Lucas goes down to call to them, and one of the men drags the too week Maria through the mud. Eventually she passes out from the pain, waking up surrounded by Thai villagers who pour water down her throat and wrap her in a new shirt. She thanks them as an Elderly woman holds her close and allows her to cry into her shoulder. She and Lucas are loaded into a truck, and Maria starts to worry about Daniel but Lucas doesn’t know where he is.
The truck drives down a clear stretch of road every bump putting Maria in agony and we see just how far the devastation has come inland. Instead of loading injured into trucks, most of them carry the corpses. The Hospital is overflowing with the injured and Maria screams into a rag as she is taken off to surgery. Lucas wanders through, and the old man who helped drag Maria around points him in the right direction allowing Maria to follow. She complains that she’s cold, but he tells her that it isn’t cold. He asks her what he can do, and she tells him that she needs antibiotics he tries to get some from the cupboard, but the labels are all in Thai. The Doctor arrives, and Maria insists that he do all he can to save her since there’s no one left to look after Lucas if she dies. The Doctor then goes to work to stop the bleeding.
When Maria awakes, she is lying in a massive room where all the surgery patients are recovering on gurneys. She asks Lucas what color her leg is, and he tells her that it’s red which is a good sign. If the leg turns black, then it will need to be amputated. He offers her a piece of fruit and orders her to eat it so that she’ll feel better. She turns over to the woman in the next bed and introduces herself, but the woman is in a catatonic state. She tells Lucas to offer her some fruit, but when he does, the catatonic woman starts heaving blood spurting out. A nurse rushes over to assist her when Maria starts vomiting as well a massive clot of blood and seaweed forcing its way out of her stomach. Maria lies weakly in bed afterward and tells him to go and help the people in the hospital since she’s not going anywhere.
As Lucas walks around, he is stopped by a Swedish vacationer who is looking for his family. Lucas says that he will try and help and soon he is given names of people with family looking for them and he goes around making a list trying to find each person and their missing family members. After a moment, he finds one of the Swedish man’s sons in a wing of the hospital. He runs back and finds the Swede and brings the man to his son. Lucas is overjoyed and goes to tell his mother what happened, but he finds her bed missing and being replaced by another man. The Nurse takes the file away and Lucas freaks out until a young Thai administrator who speaks English tells him that she will help Lucas.
In a tent, Lucas opens a folder near him which holds photographs of the dead. The Administrator asks him if there was anyone else traveling with him and asks what happened and if there is someone Lucas could call. Lucas tells the Administrator he has a grandfather but doesn’t remember his number. She puts a sticker on him and holds his cheek before walking away. Lucas looks around the tent and sees all the other children around him when he starts to cry.
Henry trudges gingerly over debris covered ground and mud. He finds the red bouncy ball and calls out hoarsely for Lucas only to receive no response. He is still at the shore and calls out for Lucas and Maria but not for Simon and Thomas. Dusk arrives and as Henry returns to the now empty pool at the resort to see a helicopter flying overhead. A boat is now pressed against the side of the main part of the resort. He passes several others and arrives at room B303 where he sees a pile of furniture forming a make shift ladder through a hole to the roof. He starts to climb and the bottom piece collapses, forcing Henry to the ground where he holds his ribs in pain. A fellow survivor sticks his head through the hole and tells him to hold on they’ve brought trucks to take everyone to the mountain. Henry thanks the man and asks if he could tell Simon and Thomas that he’s back. The boys run to the hole and tell him about the helicopters.
Henry asks Thomas to come down and tells him that he couldn’t find Maria or Lucas. He tells them that everyone is being moved to a shelter and that Thomas will need to look after Simon so that Henry can keep looking for the others. Thomas insists that he has never looked after anyone before and that he’s scared, but Henry tells Thomas that the scariest part for him wasn’t when the water hit but when he came up and couldn’t find either of the boys. They had managed to cling to a tree, and when Henry saw them, he was happy because he knew he wasn’t alone. And since Maria and Lucas could both be alone and looking for the others, Henry has to find them so Thomas needs to look after Simon. He hugs the boy.
Henry guides Simon and Thomas towards the truck and sees an American with a working phone. He asks the man’s wife if they’ve lost someone and she says they’re fine they just want to get out of there. Henry asks the American if he can use the man’s phone, but the man insists that the battery is going to die and can’t spare a call. Henry gets the boys on a truck and tells them to behave themselves, asking a woman to look after them she tells him that he should come with them as it is “useless,” but Henry insists that he can’t stop looking. The truck drives off, and Henry takes a flashlight to go and look for Maria and Lucas. He wanders through the shore until he falls through a hole and his flashlight dies. He scrambles out and walks along the road in the dark until he is found by another group of Americans and taken somewhere safe.
Henry is taken to a makeshift rescue center where other survivors are talking about what happened, how they reacted and how their loved ones are still missing. Ferdinand (Simon Blyberg), a traveler with a leg brace, mentions how his wife hadn’t wanted to go to Thailand for vacation because of the leg. Henry recounts how he found the boys and that the hardest thing so far was to send them to the mountains in order to look for Maria and Lucas. Ferdinand offers Henry his phone so that Henry can get in touch with Maria’s father, Brian. Henry breaks down as he tells Brian what happened and abruptly ends the call in order to preserve the battery. He hands the phone back to Ferdinand, but the young man insists that Henry cannot leave the call like that. Henry thanks him and calls back Brian promising that he won’t stop looking until he finds Maria and Lucas. Ferdinand offers to help Henry continue his search.
In the mountains, Thomas is studying the sky for constellations. An older woman approaches Thomas and asks to sit by him. He asks how old she is, and she tells the boy that she’s 74. Thomas replies that he’s seven and a half. She asks about Simon and Thomas insists that the boy is alright. The woman comments that some of the stars burned out a long time ago. Thomas blankly asks if they’re dead and the woman sensitively states that the stars are dead but that their lights were so bright that they still travel through space. He asks how to tell the dead ones apart from the living stars and she says that you can’t making it a beautiful mystery.
Back at the hospital, Lucas is approached by the Administrator and asked to follow her back into the hospital. She places him before a European woman who is going through paper work and asks if he recognizes any of the items placed before him. She puts a little rag with an earring a watch and a ring on the table and asks if he recognizes any of the pieces. He doesn’t recognize anything, but he isn’t sure, so the Administrator asks him to follow her. Maria is attached to an oxygen mask and asks where the hell he was. The Administrator apologizes for the mix up and explains that Maria needs to go back into surgery.
Ferdinand and Henry search through rows of corpses for their loved ones. They go to a refugee area and pour over maps which show the damage. Consulting boards the names of survivors and Ferdinand tells him that there’s nothing available to help them. Henry tells Ferdinand that they need to find their way to the hospital, but Henry’s attention is distracted by a bus full of kids. Henry sees the woman he asked to look over the boys and she apologizes: the kids were all taken away and put on buses and she couldn’t go with them.
Lucas holds vigil over Maria and looks over to see Daniel running around. He steps away and follows the little boy over to where he’s gotten off to seeing that Daniel has been reunited with his father. The boy smiles at Lucas as his father takes him away. Lucas returns to Maria and tries to tell her that he saw Daniel, but she asks what color her leg is. He tells her that it’s still red, and her breathing is labored. Lucas walks over to the Administrator and begs her for help since the wound is looking very bad. The Administrator tells him that they are doing what they can and that they’ll be going into surgery soon.
Henry and Ferdinand are in the back of a truck with a British couple. They stop outside a hospital and Henry begs the driver for five minutes to check if his family is here. Ferdinand’s leg would only slow Henry down so he gives Henry the names of his wife and daughter, both Americans. The British Couple whines that they’ve checked this hospital before, but Ferdinand implores them for five minutes as this is the only hospital that he and Henry haven’t checked. The driver tells him that he can have his five minutes. Henry goes towards the hospital.
Maria is looking worse and worse as she calls out to Lucas. He tells her that he will get her something and walks through the hospital as Henry pours over the list of the admitted. He cannot find a trace of Maria or Lucas and goes down to the lower level just as Lucas arrives and passes the list to find a water faucet. Henry looks through the windows and passes by Maria’s room without seeing her. He enters the room and gets close to seeing Maria and, as she stares at his shadow too weak to call, he moves away. Lucas goes to the upper level to find a bag of ice and sees his father walking by. He calls out to him, running through the hospital’s entrance to catch up with him but as he stands up he cannot see anyone in the crowd of people. He’s lost Henry all over again.
Simon is desperate to pee and runs off the bus, quickly followed by Thomas. As the bus driver screams at the boys to get back on the bus, Thomas tells Simon to hurry as the bus will leave them there. In the background, we see Lucas running out to search for Henry showing us that the bus is currently outside of the Hospital. Lucas continues looking for his father. Henry returns to the truck and apologizes to Ferdinand no luck. He thanks the driver for waiting and the driver tries to start the car, but the car won’t start. Lucas screams in frustration and is heard by Simon and Thomas who scream back. The boys rush to each other and hug. The commotion draws Henry from the car and he sees Lucas, running towards the boys. Ferdinand watches the scene and tells the driver there’s no need to wait.
Lucas immediately tells Henry that Maria is there, and the boys go to the hospital room. He takes off her oxygen mask and kisses her the younger boys around him. She confesses that now she can rest and that she’s dying. He tells her that the doctors are going to take care of her promising that she will be fine when the Administrator arrives and tells them that they have to take her for surgery now.
Night comes. Henry thanks Lucas for taking care of Maria and he states that they took care of each other. Lucas tells Henry that there’s something he didn’t tell Maria and that he needs her to know. In the surgical room, Maria glances over weakly and sees the catatonic woman from earlier. The Woman turns her head and says that she has a family and that she’s been saving her strength because she wants to see them one more time. She reaches out her hand to take Maria’s but is pulled away before they can reassure each other.
The nurse applies anesthesia and tells Maria to think of something nice, but Maria cries that she’s afraid to go to sleep. Lucas curls up to sleep on a nearby bed as Maria goes under thinking about the wave as it came crashing down, the screams and what happened to her as she was thrown around under water choking, cut, beaten by debris and bursting through broken pieces of what were once homes. Suspended under water, she closes her eyes as she begins the slow ascent to the surface towards the light. She bursts through to breathe, and Lucas wakes up with a start to see Henry standing at the door. He walks over and tells Lucas that she’s OK. They are going home.
The family is taken through airport security towards a waiting plan that will take them to a top rate medical center in Singapore. Maria is strapped into the plane, and Henry reassures her that they will all be OK. They strap in, and Lucas pauses a moment to tell Maria that Daniel found his dad in the hospital and that he was happy. Maria cries, happy to hear that the little boy was OK. She hugs Lucas and tells him that she loves him so much. Lucas looks down and sees his sticker. Maria looks down at her arm and sees that she was put down as “Muriel Barnes.” Henry looks down at the paper that Fernando gave him and sees that it was the note that Fernando’s wife left him which says “We Are On The Beach.” Each member of the family overcome with emotion, the plane takes off, and they can see an aerial view of the devastation beneath them.
Post Film Dedication: This film is based upon the true story of Maria, Quique, Lucas, Tomas, and Simon a real family who survived the disaster.
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