One of the most moving films I saw this year was The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the parents of three boys who are visiting Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hits. It’s a relentless and heart-rending survival story, and based on a true one — which only makes it more emotionally crushing.

This awards-season behind-the-scenes video about The Impossible focuses on the musical score of Fernando Velázquez, but it includes footage of Maria Belon, the mother played by Naomi Watts in the film, who speaks to the musicians about the emotion they are contributing to the story. She was there to provide a little inspiration, but spoke to a larger issue about the film.

The Impossible has gotten some criticism for focusing on a family of tourists instead of the many millions of local people devastated by this disaster, and for telling a survival story instead of looking at the loss of an estimated 230,000 dead. Of course, with a tragedy of this magnitude, there’s no way to capture its full breadth in any movie, and zeroing in on any single family will feel like countless others are being overlooked. But telling one moving story does not invalidate others.

In this video, Belon is there to help motivate the musicians, but her remarks underline why it’s sometimes important to zoom in and tell one small piece of an overwhelming story. 230,000 dead is a statistic. Saying millions were displaced is an abstraction. Storytelling — including music — captures what numbers cannot.

“From the very first moment they called to say they want to make a movie out of this story, we said it’s not our story — it’s many, many people’s story,” Belon says, as director Juan Antonio Bayona lends her an arm of support. “But not everybody was as lucky as we were. The end of the movie tries to explain what we cannot say. But you can, because only a heart can.”

The Impossible opens on Dec. 21. Here’s the full trailer:

The Impossible
  • Movie
  • 104 minutes