In 2018, 13 young boys were trapped for weeks in a flooded cave as rescuers tried to solve the puzzle of how to bring them out. Digital editor Dan Jensen goes deeper into their story with a new film on Amazon Prime.
THE 2018 RESCUE of a Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave for almost three weeks was an event that had the world on edge. It was difficult to imagine the scale of the rescue effort and the challenges faced from seeing news reports, but director Ron Howard now immerses us in the thick of it with Thirteen Lives.
On Saturday 23 June 2018, a group of 12 boys from a Thai soccer team, along with their coach, set off to explore Tham Luang Nang Non cave prior to a birthday party. After torrential rain set in and the boys went missing, an international rescue mission began that involved thousands of people from several countries. The world waited with bated breath as the rescuers faced the immense challenge of trying to figure out a way to bring the boys, untrained in scuba diving, out of the flooded cave that presented its own perilous obstacles.
One of the most noticeable aspects of Thirteen Lives is the pace at which the story is told. The film doesn’t take time to develop characters or dramatise anything since it’s not essential in telling this story. It doesn’t matter what the backstories of the boys are — what matters is that these are human lives on the verge of being extinguished. Within the first ten minutes of the film, the boys are in the cave and it’s begun flooding.
Filmed in both Thailand and Queensland’s Gold Coast, Thirteen Lives is a reminder of how precious life is and how grateful we need to be for all of its blessings. The trapped boys did no wrong and were merely the victims of cruel timing. It’s difficult to ascertain who the real heroes were — the rescue divers or the boys for managing to stay alive for so long with no food.
The cast includes Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell as British cave divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, the first to discover the boys alive 2.5 kilometres within the treacherous cave system. Joel Edgerton plays Dr Richard Harris, a diver who also works as an anaesthetist, brought in as part of the seemingly insane plot to sedate the boys one by one in order to bring them out. Under the expert direction of Howard, the entire cast, including the Thai actors, are superb. Mortensen and Farrell disappear into their characters with natural and believable portrayals of the two men who were faced with the agonising question upon discovering the boys — what next?
There are so many moments of genuine tension throughout the film, especially for those who only caught glimpses of the saga unfolding through world news. We all knew the (mostly) triumphant outcome, but it was difficult to really get an idea of what went into bringing the boys back home. Thirteen Lives shows just how massive the operation was. Not only from the perspective of the divers and local Navy SEALs but also how it affected the communities and farms in the surrounding area. And it’s nothing short of staggering.
As with most historic dramatisations, Thirteen Lives does suffer from the viewer ultimately knowing what happens in the end, thus somewhat lessening the overall tension. During the actual rescue, there are moments where Howard tries to put us on the edge of our seats with some “will they or won’t they make it?” moments, but we already know the answer.
The film is dedicated to Saman Kunan, a SEAL diver who perished during the operation. It’s unfortunate that due to the fast pacing of the film, the scene of his demise doesn’t pack much of an emotional punch. It’s one of the drawbacks of having no time to develop characters, but at the same time, knowing this was something that actually happened still adds a little sadness.
But despite knowing that the boys will be okay, Thirteen Lives still manages to deliver some white-knuckle moments and is most definitely the kind of film that will make you want to hug your loved ones afterwards. Being placed in the centre of such a harrowing moment in history will leave you grateful for the good things in your life and remind you of just how precious every new day can be.
Thirteen Lives is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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