In 2018, Oscar-winning director Ron Howard watched the media coverage of the 18-day search-and-rescue operation to save 12 members of a Thai junior football team and their coach. They were trapped deep in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system amid rising flood water.

The famed director told the Christian Post, “The headlines do sort of offer up a great movie story. I thought there was great drama in that great suspense and that I can make a real movie out of the adventure side of it.”

Several years after that harrowing event, Howard was pitched a screenplay of the story. He was fascinated by the human interest aspect of it; the volunteerism of the Thai people, the bravery of the divers who rescued the team, and the spirituality that gave both the soccer team and their parents peace throughout the ordeal. Howard continued, “That was an important element that I didn’t know very much about, but I felt it was emotional and very, very beautiful and cinematic, and completely true.”

So when bringing the story to the big screen, the “Beautiful Mind” director took great care not only to tell it accurately but to capture as much detail as possible to honor the rescuers and impress on audiences just how extraordinary and complex the operation indeed was.

IMDb

True to the timeline of events, Howard’s latest film, “Thirteen Lives,” opens on June 23, 2018, when the boys on the Wild Boars soccer team, ranging in age from 11 to 16, became stranded in dangerous caves during a monsoon that arrived with no warning.

When it becomes clear that rescue efforts will take more than just locals, British armed services veterans are enlisted to help: Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), a 60-year-old retired diver; his partner, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell); Dr. Richard Harris (Joel Edgarton), a diver and anesthetist; and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), who comes up with a risky plan to rescue the team.

But the film focuses more intently on the bravery and collaboration of the children’s families and locals. Knowing that their crops — their only source of income — will be destroyed, locals give authorities permission to divert water onto rice paddies, helping save lives. Meanwhile, the children’s parents and family members pray tirelessly for the safety of the children and the divers.

In total, 17 Navy SEALs were enlisted for the endeavor. Though divers successfully rescued all 13, one Thai diver died, and another succumbed a year later to a blood infection. Religion is also heavily featured within the cave. The boys practice meditation as they wait for rescue. Though most of the boys and their families practiced a form of animism, one athlete,  Adul “Adun” Samon, was a devout Christian.

The film captures the pivotal moment when Stanton and Volanthen watch as the boys slowly emerge from around a dark corner of the cave after nine days of search. Farrell said the faith and collaboration of the Thai people impacted the rescue and the morale of all involved. For Howard, the Thai cave rescue is more than a tale of victory over odds; it’s a story of heroism, faith, and, most incredibly, global collaboration.

When speaking to some of the real-life Western divers behind the rescue, Howard said they reflected on the spiritual impact of the event, saying that some believed they sensed a spiritual atmosphere. “Thirteen Lives” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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