The Miracle Under the Mountain
An impossible rescue, revisited
If a goddess becomes angry, can her tears flood the world? Ask most people in the West, and they would answer you with a puzzled look. Why ask such a question? Who believes that sort of thing anymore?
Of course, this would disregard the significant populations of Eastern people who still take such questions very seriously. They hover at the edges of Thirteen Lives, Ron Howard’s dramatization of the stunning 2018 cave rescue that snatched thirteen young Thai soccer players from certain death. It was a nail-biting operation that ultimately cost two lives—one Thai Navy SEAL who drowned and another who died of blood poisoning months later. Astonishingly, they were the only casualties. The film brings the rescue to life with fidelity and understated style. It makes excellent back-to-back viewing with the documentary The Rescue, where the real rescuers candidly explain the whole impossible, nerve-racking ordeal.
The young boys first entered the cave under clear skies. Then the rain came. They barely escaped to higher ground, where they spent long, dark days waiting for the team that would eventually save them all. Desperate and frightened, the boys’ parents began gathering outside the cave for candlelight vigils at the shrine of the local goddess, Princess Nang Non. The mountain range is named after her, because from a distance it looks like a sleeping princess. The film dramatizes the moment when a Buddhist “holy man” asks forgiveness from the angry Princess, as well as “any other spirits” who might be offended. One young couple—perhaps 30, but looking at most 20—begs him to bless some bead bracelets for the boys, which the mother passes on to the divers.
Diver Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) is unimpressed when his teammate offers him his own blessed bracelet, “for luck.” “Don’t believe in luck,” he says tersely, and stuffs it in his pocket. In fact, the real Stanton protested about taking the bracelets to the boys at all. A man not inclined to mince words, he declared outright, “This is bullshit!” But when it was delicately put to him that it might boost the boys’ morale, because they believed it whether or not he did, he relented—still grumbling.