The Academy Award-winning directors of Free Solo tell the intense story of the 2018 Thai cave rescue, one that saw a school boys soccer team and their coach trapped in a flooded cave system. Liam Maguren found the film indispensable.
Anyone with a news aggregator, a Twitter account, or a friend to talk to in 2018 would have come across the Thai cave rescue attempt. The situation seemed improbable: a teenage football team got stuck deep within a flooded cave system. The solution felt impossible: get a group of divers to swim them out. You might think you know how this all unfolded, but as this indispensable film The Rescue shows, none of us knew just how painfully tight this operation truly was.
The Oscar-winning directors of Free Solo masterfully weave actual footage of the rescue with subtle re-enactments, aided by commentary from the rescuers, to reconstruct this once-in-a-lifetime operation. From the moment Tham Luang cave trapped the kids to the final minutes of the evacuation, The Rescue tells the story step by agonising step with airtight precision that leaves no room to breathe (in more ways than one).
The details alone are eye-widening, especially when visualised. It’s one thing to read about the length and size of the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system; it’s another thing entirely to witness a little CGI version of a diver, wedged like a sponge in a toilet roll, inside a very long 3D model of Tham Luang Nang Non. It does a lot to map out the intensity of the rescue operation in the viewer’s head.
The Rescue goes a step further by echoing the emotions that rattled through the rescuers’ hearts. A team of Average Joes from England and Australia, who cave dive for fun, found themselves at the centre of the operation by sheer dumb luck and circumstance. To make use of an obvious pun, they felt out of their depths, a feeling they’re very frank about on camera.
Nobody’s more open about their past pessimism than Richard Harris, one of two Aussie divers on the crew arguably put in the most difficult position of the lot. The master plan, dubbed the least terrible plan of all the terrible plans, relied on Harris’s skills as a professional anaesthetist—except, what was asked of him went wildly beyond what any professional would deal with. It causes Harris to grimly confess the two most likely outcomes in his mind: the kids dying in the cave, or the kids dying in his care.
That’s just one of the many physical and ethical obstructions that make up this absolute gauntlet of a rescue. Even before executing the master/terrible plan, the divers and the Thai Navy SEALs had to stop butting heads and start getting along. It’s also impossible not to respect and root for these SEALs, who substituted their lack of cave diving experience with sheer bravery and determination.
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There’s also a significant cultural and spiritual aspect to The Rescue wrapped up in the story of Tham Luang Nang Non, which is known as The Great Cave of the Sleeping Lady. The legend hits hardest at the end, when you’re likely drenched by your own tension-induced sweat or emotion-fuelled tears, by eerily tying in the down-to-the-wire rescue with the will of the Sleeping Lady.
It’s the perfect conclusion to what will likely be the most astonishing against-the-odds film you’ll experience this year.