I have an absolute terror of massive waves, and they don’t come more massive than those created during a tsunami. This intensely moving and frightening film documented the devastation on Boxing Day 2004 as caught on various cameras by witnesses.
It was harrowing to see and one can only imagine the gut wrenching fear of those who saw it all, and those thousands who of course lost their lives to it or the effects of it.
One thing that struck me most forcefully about this documentary was how ordinariness can so rapidly turn to the horribly extraordinary. For instance, in several pieces of footage, we saw and heard a family celebrating Christmas in what was – then – “paradise”, but their contentment and joy was about to become a living nightmare.
The singing of carols, the novelty of Christmas on a beach… all were happy scenes that became the portent to imminent disaster; as though fate was having a secret snigger at their happiness.
The scenes that followed showed how fast that happiness and contentment dissolved as we saw images of the ocean’s surge as onlookers were at first bemused at the size of the swell. We heard various people on the beach in Phuket remarking on the “size of that wave!” and drawing others attention to the rapidly approaching wall of water.
What horrified me most at that point was how we could see, hear and actually feel the panic as those close to the shore realised just exactly what was coming their way; a wall of watery death. And for some, that realisation came agonisingly slowly, and then the horror of seeing the still-recording cameras suddenly swamped by water. It was truly stomach churning.
Then there came the remarkable stories of survival, such as a honeymooning couple whose hotel room was swamped and the pull of the tide pulled them out to sea. Thankfully, they were eventually saved from death, but of course, so many weren’t.
In fact, one of the most impacting things about this documentary was that only near the end did we get to find out who – of those we’d been introduced to via their footage and stories – had made it and who had not.
It may not make for traditional festive watching, but I have to say, it made me very glad that I like to be firmly ensconced at home in good old Britain for Christmas.
If you missed it, you can see it again on 4oD here, and though often very uncomfortable viewing, it was fascinating. But not in a morbidly voyeuristic way; it simply told the very human stories that were part of the jigsaw of the greater and mostly nameless tragedies of those terrible days.