In Juan Antonio Bayona’s disaster film ‘The Impossible,’ Karl Schweber is a German man who deals with the disappearance of his wife Kathy and daughter Gina, after a tsunami that hits the Thai villages of Khao Lak. When Henry searches for his wife Maria and eldest son Lucas, he meets Karl, who informs the former about his missing American wife and daughter. Even while dealing with the absence of his family, Karl assists Henry in looking for the latter’s partner and son. In reality, a man really helped Enrique Álvarez, the real-life counterpart of Henry, while the latter was looking for María Belón and their son Lucas. The film ends without revealing what really happened to Karl’s family, leaving the viewers tensed!
Is Karl Based on a Real Person?
Karl can be a semi-fictionalized version of a real man who helped Enrique Álvarez to find María and Lucas. Although, in the film, Karl mentions having one daughter, the man who accompanied Enrique had two babies. According to María, the man lost two of them, indicating that they either died or they were never found. “We stayed in touch with the man my husband traveled with while he looked for us. But it is hard because the man lost his two babies,” she told The Mirror. “I learned what real generosity was through the tsunami. People who didn’t know me spent hours looking for my family,” María added.
Not much is known about Karl other than María’s revelation that her family reconnected with the man after getting rescued from Thailand. The reunion of Enrique, María, and their children must have given the man the hope that he would be able to find his loved ones as well. Unfortunately, María’s words make it clear that he failed to do so. That can be the reason why the portrayal of Karl in the film moved María immensely while watching the same for the first time.
Memories of Karl
When director Bayona screened the movie for María and her family, she broke down watching the scene in which Karl asks Henry’s help to find Kathy and Gina by writing the names in the same note that reads, “We are at the beach,” written by the German’s wife. According to an interview given by Bayona to the Los Angeles Times, the scene “overpowered” María with grief for the millions of victims of the 2004 tsunami. After watching the same, María realized that the film paid homage to the same victims “sufficiently and respectfully.”
María dedicated the movie to the victims of the heart-rending disaster, which seemingly includes the loved ones of the real Karl. “I thought, ‘They will forgive me for any mistake I made. It’s for the people who didn’t make it and for the people who are alive. I think of them every day — those that are suffering, those that miss people. I don’t miss people in my life. And missing people is the worst thing that can happen,” María said in the same Los Angeles Times interview.
The real-life counterpart of Karl was never brought to the spotlight. However, the film honors his compassion and sacrifice that helped Enrique find his family. His decision to help a fellow sufferer in times of need and agony makes it clear that hope and empathy can prevail even when humans are tested by the worst tragedies.
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