Not that Disney needs my support but I feel compelled to write my fulsome praise for one of their latest films and not one that features any of my children.
A documentary called The Rescue, the harrowing but utterly remarkable story of the Thai football team trapped in a treacherous subterranean cave system during the monsoon season in Thailand.
There are many life lessons on offer here – the most apparent being, don’t go caving during the monsoon season. And even better – just don’t go caving. Ever.
Disney is the feel-good studio, serving up life affirming stories with a moral spine. And because The Rescue is all of these things and happens to be true, it is an exemplary demonstration of the human spirit; our capacity for love and kindness.
The film is no less compelling either because we already know the euphoric outcome. I urge everyone to seek it out, if only as an anti-dote to the bleak and misanthropic fare we are usually fed by our media.
The scene then…
Thirteen young football players are trapped in a subterranean labyrinth with their football coach. In order then… the first team, two substitutes and an adult with a shit load of explaining to do. Questions all starting with WTF…
The film features a cast of many hundreds all involved in this rescue mission but it stars two quirky individuals, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen. Two middle aged Englishmen and unlikely heroes who just happen to be amongst the best cave divers in the world. To be fair, this is not as hallowed as other sports because this a small pool – but no matter, because as the film unfurls, we are in no doubt of their skill and brilliance, not to mention their remarkable valour.
Rick and John are definitely odd which I suppose goes without saying. How many people do you know who hang out in flooded caves for fun and the film-makers make much of this. In individual interviews, both men talk about their personality traits and how they find solace in freezing cold perilous places. Rick can’t recall the precise number of corpses he has pulled from caves. ‘Er… nearly double figures!’ Rather unkindly, he is asked if caving has made it difficult for him to form relationships? He doesn’t seem to mind though and he confirms that it has. They talk of being bullied at school and feeling marginalised. They enjoy the quiet and solitude of a cave and have found something they can excel at, no matter how oblique.
Once the football team are reported missing and their bikes are found at the entrance to the caves, the authorities are faced with a mounting crisis. The Thai military are quickly out of answers and with the world’s media already camped outside, the Thai authorities reluctantly concede they need help. A British bloke on the ground, Vernon Unsworth is familiar with the caves and he insists that Rick and John be called upon.
Their task is grim and unlikely. The Thai navy seals with no experience of cave diving are unable to locate the boys and after 7 days, hopes are diminishing and the pressure is rising – as well as the water levels. The story is world news and what strikes me is that Rick and John never appear on any media interviews. I expect eschewing offers because they’re busy diving and speaking to some hottie from ABC Australia is not going to help the boys.
They keep on diving, exploring deeper in to the tunnels until finally they locate the boys, nearly 3km from the entrance. A journey in pitch black using ropes and only feel – the round trip taking 3 hours.
But any euphoria at finding the boys is short-lived because how to get them out?
An impossible conundrum for everyone involved – and it remains unsolved for 7 further days with oxygen levels in the air pocket becoming critical and the boys rapidly weakening for lack of light, food, warmth…
And still the porous heavens continue to empty, heaping more pressure on the rescuers. Hundreds of people and experts from all over the world. Divers, geologists, engineers, medics… Very quickly it becomes a global effort. A mission that ignores the myriad factors that increasingly divide and separate one another in modern discourse. Worth adding also that these are poor rural kids. Some of them are even stateless, and yet, they’re no less important – just young people who need rescuing with the entire world watching.
And perilously dangerous for the rescuers also which is made clear when a navy seal drowns returning from a resupply journey. The interviews with his devastated wife are particularly heart rending. Her pride for her hero is palpable and rightly so.
After his death, the Thai navy abandon their efforts and defer to the Americans and these odd British fellows – who reluctantly conclude that the only viable solution is to swim the kids out under general anaesthetic – with a breathing regulator in their mouth and strapped to the belly of a diver for the 90-minute crawl to safety.
Unprecedented and probably impossible.
But with rains continuing and time running out, it is the only hope and everything rests on Rick and John. They cannot do this alone, so they call upon fellow divers who are up to the task. A brilliant Aussie doctor, an Irishman and three more Brits. All similarly odd and idiosyncratic. They are all quietly spoken, modest and unassuming. Cavers are guys who are not accustomed to much daylight, let alone limelight and a stark contrast to the preening broadcast journalists buzzing about above ground.
This is a poignant and perhaps unintentional facet of The Rescue – that of the hundreds and hundreds of people gathered, ultimately everything hinged on just a handful of individuals and people who are not usually heralded and especially so amidst the egos of the world’s media.
The juxtaposition of featuring the cavers risking their lives underground and then cutting to Ms Cheek Bones in a Gucci suit had me rooting for the geeks even more. Men who were picked last for school sports teams. The guys who had to sit out the last dance at the school disco. Unlikely heroes who are now indispensable because they have the requisite skills and guts to risk their own lives for others.
A word also for the stoicism of the stranded boys. Known as the Land of Smiles, the Thai kids are remarkable for their resolve and bravery – and especially so against our modern day kids having melt downs when the wifi drops out.
The eventual reunions of the boys with their waiting mothers is beautiful and again it is telling that our heroes still have little to say to the media, some of whom I expect were waving cheque books about.
Towards the end of the film, there is a touching scene of Rick and John receiving honours from the Queen and Prince William. Every year, a shower of wealthy types who’ve cosied up to politicians are bestowed with dubious honours. How these honourable rescuers must have shone out that day at Buckingham Palace.
I am conscious that I have not mentioned the names of the other heroes who joined Rick and John. Nice to give them a mention (even in a blog) I could get their names by watching the film again. But I sense that they don’t need this acclaim because they know what they did and this is enough.
The Rescue is a feel-great movie. A triumphant victory for humankind in which we can all share and take enormous pride.
It should be watched by everyone.
Bravo all round.
The Rescue especially chimes with me for its happy ending – the sorts of stories I strive to write. I have just published a novella on Amazon (free on kindle) – called Hobbs’ Journey – a happy and quick read to raise the spirit.