TIFF Review – The Rescue
2018 feels like lightyears ago. Yet, some events of that year stand out. The cave rescue of the Thai soccer players and their coach is one of them. I remember it but don’t recall in minute detail all that went into the rescue and recovery of those 12 kids and their coach. It couldn’t have been so difficult, right? Wrong. The Rescue (2021) by Oscar-winning documentary directors E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin brings those 16 nerve-wracking days back into the public’s consciousness with many impressive revelations and feats of heroism.
Sometimes it takes a documentarian(s) to parse through the media frenzy surrounding an event and get down to the facts to demonstrate what exactly happened for a specific subject. While the rescue was treated like Baby Jessica, who fell down a well (I remember that one clearly) with overbearing reporters, live broadcasts, and the international media flocking to the scene, the actual rescue of the kids was much more intimate.
Cave diving is not something that many people choose as their hobby, let alone a sport. When it came to rescuing these boys, the Thai Navy Seals were out of their depth. One British guy living in Thailand, Vern Unsworth, who was responsible for mapping out some of the countries caves, became an invaluable resource, both because of his knowledge of the cave systems but also because of his contacts and friends in the cave diving world. It is through his connections that cave divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen joined the effort. They are the two men who found the group initially, four kilometers from the cave mouth, most of that requiring underwater diving with oxygen through tight spaces. After rescuing a group of men, forgotten after the flooding of the cave, only partway on the route, the divers realized that bringing these boys to safety would not be easy and perhaps impossible. More experienced cave divers were brought in for the final push, including one doctor, for the ultimate rescue.
The Rescue documents the rescue effort from its beginning to its end but takes particular care in interviewing as many people as possible who were at least partly in charge and interviewing their Thai partners who had a different perspective on what their loved ones were doing. It also takes great care in detailing the religion of the Thai people and the princess they believe is protecting the mountain that the caves are underneath. The film doesn’t tell the story from the survivors’ point of view; none of them were interviewed. However, while those trapped were a part of the story, the rescue itself, down to its risks and intricacies, was the focus. The documentary does not bore the viewer with logistics and math, but with maps that bring into focus what appeared to be an insurmountable task this rescue was. Luckily, it ignores the seedy attempt from Elon Musk to interject himself into the rescue effort.
E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have faithfully as possible given the audience of The Rescue an accurate look at what transpired during those 16 days in 2018. While there are some reenactments, the use of footage from all the different sources and interviews with those who participated in the rescue gives viewers a very human, emotionally vulnerable look at what happened. A small group of men with a specific skill and nothing to gain from it helped save 13 people, endangering their lives and those they wanted to rescue. They just did what they felt was right to do. Risks be damned.