Updated: Nov 23, 2021
A documentary by directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.
We all know how this one ended – that group of 12 little Thai soccer players and their coach were successfully extracted from a flooded cave system in Northern Thailand. None of us, however, could have grasped the extraordinary mix of heroism, blind hope, untiring team work, niche skills, and all-out luck that saved the fragile little boys from the clutches of death.
The unlikely heroes (though everybody on camera is definitely a hero in this documentary) are the self-effacing and rather nerdy ‘old blokes’; British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. These two gents were, in 2018, the most accomplished cave divers in the world. We see the Thai Navy Seals, fit and trained to within an inch of their lives, be thwarted by the treacherous caves and we realise just how niche an activity cave-diving is. As one of the group explains, it is an exercise of diving into muddy water in a confined space, frequently having no idea what lies within …
As the expert divers call on equally nerdy peers from all across the globe to assist in the extraction of the little boys, we discover that all these elite diving hobbyists are outsiders; were never chosen for team sports, and that all are a little damaged by life. Yet here they were, leading and mapping one of the most extraordinary team rescues of our time.
The work of Australian anaesthetist/diver Dr Richard Harris is highlighted in the film to punctuate just how unlikely the successful extraction of boys was considered. Harris was brought on board to anesthetise boy after boy, though he genuinely believed he was committing an act akin to euthanasia as he sedated each boy then pushed the child's head face down in water, tying their hands behind their backs before they were positioned to embark on the treacherous two hour journey. Any medicos blood would have run cold to be administering that anaesthetic in a scenario of such daunting risk.
And there was the religious god/man flown in from Myanmar who was said to be the reincarnation of the father of the River Princess whose spirit inhabited the cave system. He arrived, and the early monsoon rains that initially trapped the schoolboys ceased for long enough for a military-style exercise involving 1000’s of Thai and international volunteers to redirect water in any way possible - pumps, pipes, human-chains - from running into the cave system.
Astonishing again, were the boys themselves (not a tear in sight) with their huge smiles; their chances to live diminishing by the day as the oxygen levels inside the cave became ever more dangerously low, and the water levels rose.
The divers all admitted that once they saw the boys alive they knew they would attempt what all felt would be a doomed rescue. How could they not?
Crowds of people in prayer keeping vigil, amongst them the boys’ shocked and frozen parents; all those brave individuals directly involved in the rescue were coming to and from the caves each day through these praying crowds and being greeted daily by their desperate and yearning eyes, some matching the trusting eyes of the trapped boys.
'The Rescue' is the story of real and very ordinary 'old blokes' being extraordinary, with 1000s more people working together to support them, nary an ego in sight :)