The 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue is a remarkable example of human resiliency and ingenuity. Thousands of volunteers, which included the Thai Navy Seals and a group of international cave divers, descended upon the region to help save the lives of 12 youth soccer players and their coach. The entire saga will be chronicled in the survival film, Thirteen Lives.
Directed by Ron Howard, Thirteen Lives is the dramatic retelling of the dangerous rescue operation that took place in late June 2018. The youth soccer team entered the cave on June 23. Due to an unexpected monsoon, the cave flooded, trapping the boys in the process. Thai officials attempted to find the boys, but the rising water levels hampered their efforts. Two British cave divers, Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, eventually found the boys on July 2. After more than two weeks inside the cave, rescue divers transported the entire team out of the cave to safety from July 8 to July 10.
“When I read this script, not only were there many surprises in terms of the wide variety of heroic selfless acts that were demonstrated that I didn’t know about in addition to, of course, the heroism and the remarkable feat that the divers achieved. But there was this sort of seat-of-your-pants problem solving that was going on while under duress and under pressure. And I was fascinated by that,” said Howard at the film’s press conference on July 29. ” So I tried to lay out sort of what the technical problems were, what the emotional challenges were, [what] the physical threats were and just keep building scenes around that.”
The film stars Viggo Mortenson as Stanton and Colin Farrell as Volanthen. Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, Paul Gleeson, Pattrakorn Tungsupakul, Tui Thiraphat Sajakul, James Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Weir Sukollawat Kanaros form the supporting ensemble.
The actors trained with cave divers and learned from experts like Volanten to recreate the treacherous dives. Despite being in a controlled environment, the dives still presented many challenges. “In this case of the rescue, getting towards a point where we could carry stunt people, and the kids pretending to be unconscious through these really difficult obstacles, we were in a safe environment. We were very well looked after and very well trained and guided. But there were moments that it really underlined, for us, how dangerous cave diving is; how dangerous it can be if you aren’t in the safe environment that we’re in,” said Edgerton.
In addition to the rescue efforts, Thirteen Lives highlights the boys and their families. Co-producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon was brought in to work on the translations to create an accurate depiction of Thai culture. “With Ron’s help in really caring about the authenticity and caring about what Thais really feel and what we really think, I think we managed that. I believe and I hope that everybody agrees when they watch it,” said Phathanavirangoon.
At the end of the day, Thirteen Lives emphasizes that ordinary humans can do extraordinary things in times of need. “It’s wonderful that you have a recent event that exemplifies selfless collaboration for the common good,” said Mortenson. “People did it because it was the right thing to do. And it does show like Raymond was saying, the best of us. That humans are capable of doing amazing things together.”
Thirteen Lives is now playing in select theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and will launch globally on Prime Video Friday, August 5.