MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Just last year I reviewed The Rescue, a compelling documentary about the rescue of a boys’ soccer team from northern Thailand trapped in a cave by rising flood waters. The film combined existing footage, interviews with participants and reconstructed sets in which actors and divers could recreate key moments. It was a singular accomplishment by directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and one of the best movies of 2021.
So why would anyone film it again as a 2 ½ hour drama? I resisted viewing Thirteen Lives for a couple of weeks, but with the scarcity of review-worthy movies in theaters, I decided to give it a shot. I was really glad that I did.
Thirteen Lives is a very good film that features a no-nonsense script by William Nicolson, evocative cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, and the sure hand of director Ron Howard who supervised this project with all of the skill that was evident in 1995’s Apollo 13 and none of the missteps of Hillbilly Elegy.
Filmed in Thailand with dozens of Thai actors (and subtitled dialogue), Thirteen Lives highlights the race against time by British cave divers Rick Stanton (Mortenson) and John Volanthen (Farrell) to rescue the team before imminent monsoon storms cut off the passageway entirely.
Ron Howard uses the extra running time to expand the cast of characters beyond the rescue team. We are able to observe the tough decisions that the local governor (Sahajak Boonthanakit) was forced to make (and how his term of service was extended beyond what he thought would be his day or retirement). We are introduced to an irrigation engineer and the volunteers called to move sandbags. We meet local farmers who may have to surrender their harvest to diverted storm waters. We become acquainted with the families with children on the soccer team. We see the anguish on the face of the assistant coach who blames himself for the calamity but is wise enough to use meditation to calm and center the boys during the days of entrapment.
I was not aware that the Tham Luang cave was a tourist attraction, with pathways and handrails (similar to sites in Kentucky). This helped me to understand why kids would park their bikes outside and simply consider a few hours of cave exploration to be a fun birthday party activity.
The movie continually reminds us of the duration of the rescue efforts (it took 18 days), the distance between rest stops, and the long underwater pathway that had to be traversed over and over again.
It’s not often that you experience a movie that brings out the best that humanity can offer. Over 5,000 volunteers from 17 countries came together for 18 days to save thirteen lives. This is a tale worth remembering and worthy of two filmed versions. If it inspires you to join a short-term Volunteers in Mission team, so much the better.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: An inspiring film about courage, cooperation, and faith.
One pitchfork: Kids in peril.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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