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TIFF 2021 Review: The Rescue – “It’s about our collective humanity, and what can happen when we all work together”

Image courtesy of TIFF

In 2018, the documentary Free Solo made me sweat as no other movie had before.  I am deathly scared of heights, so it played to my every nightmare.  It’s a testament to filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, who won an Oscar for their considerable efforts, that one could feel so much anxiety about something with a known outcome.  Yet, with their newest venture, The Rescue, the duo succeeds in bringing another adrenaline rush to the screen.

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In June of 2018, 12 young boys, all members of the Wild Boar soccer team, as well as their coach were trapped in the 6th longest cave in Thailand.  This cave was their playground, and usually closed in July due to flooding during monsoon season, but an early and sudden downpour trapped them with no exit, no options.  Navy seals couldn’t reach them – they weren’t equipped and lacked the skills to navigate past a certain point in the labyrinth of caves underground.  They weren’t even sure the boys were still alive, but they called for help outside Thailand and a group of divers answered.

But, these weren’t trained military professionals.  They were hobby divers.  They were people that dove on the weekends, part of a community of divers that volunteered and risked themselves to reach the boys.  But finding them was only the first step.  The rescuers thought diving the children out when it was a two-and-a-half-hour trek back would be close to impossible.  Up against more flooding, a lack of oxygen and complex logistical challenges, the divers, including Brits Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, led the charge to work together with military and hundreds of volunteers to get these boys out, after more than two weeks of being trapped.

The filmmakers speak extensively to military personnel as well as the team of divers who recount their time navigating the four kilometres of flooded caves.  Full of new insights to a story you might think you knew, The Rescue is an enthralling watch, with no lack of stress as you see the incredible footage of these divers utilizing their skills, explaining each decision.  “Panic is death in the cave,” notes one such diver, but it’s incredible to think that while squeezing through these tight spaces in near pitch-black conditions that one wouldn’t panic.

Making headlines all over the world, this trapped Thai soccer team captivated an international audience.  The pressure was on for this group of volunteers who knew that if something went wrong with the rescue, public opinion would condemn them, perhaps even to a Thai jail. But these courageous individuals didn’t give up, utilizing their own intuition and innovation in their efforts.  It takes a special type of person to cave dive.  These men were all similar – not particularly popular growing up, not good at group sports.  They find peace in cave diving.  The isolation is part of the appeal.  It shows that you don’t have to be like everyone else to do great things.  The Rescue is about so much more than the young people that were saved.  It’s about our collective humanity, and what can happen when we all work together.  Perhaps a lesson more important than ever.

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