The Rescue: Remembering the Thai soccer team that united the world

The risky practice of cave diving is crucial in The Rescue, released October 8.

Promotional material courtesy of National Geographic

The risky practice of cave diving is crucial in The Rescue, released October 8.

The Rescue, released October 8, is as much heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming. The documentary’s 107 minutes recount the tragic cave entrapment of twelve teenage Thai soccer – or football, as it’s known in Thailand – players and their coach in 2018, and how the world came together to rescue them. The film pulls viewers in like no other, and the smiles, tears, reactions, and deaths which occurred over 17 days are all haunted with raw authenticity.

The National Geographic documentary by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin combines extensive footage from the actual incident, interviews, and reenactments of unfilmed events. The reenactments were filmed in a studio, as it would have been impossible to capture the cave-dive rescue due to limited space and time. Even so, the reenactments are so realistic and intense that the viewer is likely to believe they are actual footage until the credits reveal otherwise.

Set in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, the documentary is centered around the Wild Boar soccer team – twelve boys aged 11-16 – and their coach. On June 23, 2018, the team entered the Tham Luang cave, one of Thailand’s most extensive caves, to carve their names for an initiation ceremony. They were then stranded when torrential rain flooded it; nobody had any idea how to locate them in Thailand’s 6.2 mile long cave. The film includes extensive maps of the cave and its surroundings, which are helpful in giving viewers a better understanding of just how immense the setting and rescue was.

Soon, the entire world was alert to the Wild Boars. British cave divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen quickly flew to meet the Thai Navy Seals, American military, and extensive volunteers, where they strategized to save the boys. Together, the seemingly impossible task to rescue the boys became possible.

Some of the most notable heroes of the movie were the divers. Most people would think of swimming in dirty, cold, dangerous, and unchartered water while completely blind as something out of their worst nightmare. Instead, the professional cave diving team, a group of self proclaimed misfits, finds it comforting. The men are firefighters, electricians, and doctors by day, simply practicing cave diving as an extremely dangerous weekend hobby.

The divers, military, and Navy seals came willing and prepared to give up their lives to save children with whom they had no prior involvement; not for profit, but because they cared for others. The selflessness of everyone who came together to save the Wild Boars prompted the film’s ending message: that generosity is the beginning of everything and can win against all odds. This aspect of the movie was heartwarming and a beautiful reminder of the good in humanity.

The movie is thorough in detail, but it could afford to be longer. Further background on the boys and footage of their families would have further heightened the intense emotion of the movie, as well as perhaps a followup film, since the events of the movie happened three years ago in 2018. Additionally, more detail on the fate of the Wild Boar Coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, may complete the story because it is not clear how he escaped the cave nor his experience as the leader of the boys while trapped.

The Rescue keeps viewers on edge, and although the story is not new as the situation happened three years ago, the film is no less interesting. The raw footage of the boys in the cave, parental grief, and life-or-death situations is haunting, and can be difficult to watch considering they are not scripted actors.

The film’s message – generosity is the beginning of everything – moves viewers to contemplate just how much humans can do when they come together, a message that will linger far longer than the movie’s screen time. The Rescue is an intensely astounding and immersive story which will leave viewers with tears brimming their eyes, deserving a high 8.5/10.