We don’t need a Thai cave res­cue movie

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Cather­ine Shoard,

With a speed that might have been deemed un­seemly had the out­come been dif­fer­ent, 14 hours after the last child was hauled to safety, a movie ver­sion of the Thai caves res­cue was an­nounced. No stars, direc­tor or writer are yet at­tached. No ti­tle has been floated. But given that the pro­duc­tion com­pany is Pure Flix – the out­fit pre­vi­ously re­spon­si­ble for po-faced faith film fran­chise God’s Not Dead – we can prob­a­bly safely as­sume it won’t be Hooyah!

Solemn strings will fea­ture. Trea­cle-fil­ters too.

And if Elon Musk and his spe­cial sub­ma­rine put in an ap­pear­ance, it will be sans scep­ti­cism.

One thing the movie won’t be, how­ever, is di­rectly evan­gel­i­cal. “It’s not nec­es­sary to make this a Chris­tian film,” con­firmed the pro­ducer, per­haps con­scious that th­ese par­tic­u­lar caves are shrines to Bud­dha. “Just an in­spi­ra­tional one.”

In fact, it’s not nec­es­sary to make this film at all. In­spi­ra­tion enough has al­ready been gleaned from the real-life events of the past week in Thai­land. Only the thick­est-skinned per­son would fail to have been im­pressed by the courage of the divers, or to have bro­ken out in a cold sweat at the thought of the dark and the ris­ing tide, the ter­ror of the boys, the guilt of the coach, the worry of their par­ents. Imag­i­na­tion is a much more ef­fec­tive fear ma­chine than mid-bud­get fic­tion­al­i­sa­tion.

It’s easy to see the logic, though. If a sit­u­a­tion seems so in­cred­i­ble as to be ripped from the notepad of a fran­tic Hol­ly­wood hack, it prob­a­bly ought to be on the big screen, post-haste. Yet such rushed ven­tures rarely suc­ceed. The movie The 33 made some­thing meh out of the amaz­ing story of the Chilean min­ers, trapped for more than two months. Nei­ther of the Bos­ton marathon bomb­ing movies, Pa­tri­ots Day and Stronger, could cap­ture the hor­ror and hero­ism of such re­cent events.

The ex­cep­tion is United 93, Paul Green­grass’s painstak­ing recre­ation of the hi­jacked 9/11 flight that crashed into a field in Penn­syl­va­nia rather than, in all like­li­hood, the White House, thanks to its pas­sen­gers. It worked be­cause Green­grass’s in­ten­tion was as much jour­nal­is­tic as cin­e­matic – the script was as­sem­bled from black box record­ings, in­ter­views and mo­bile phone calls from the sky, ve­rac­ity dic­tat­ing ev­ery frame.

In the 17 years since 2001, much has changed. When dis­as­ter strikes, phone footage gen­er­ally gives us im­me­di­ate, first-per­son in­sight – the Thai cave drama has been un­usual for its ab­sence. And such school­ing now means our tol­er­ance for the in­au­then­tic is lower. We call out bull­shit faster.

Mean­while, this con­stant ex­po­sure to ac­tual up­set may have al­tered our ap­petite for make-be­lieve. Where once The Hand­maid’s Tale felt pleas­ingly on-the­but­ton, now view­ers opt not to spend their leisure time learn­ing fur­ther bru­tal truths about fe­male sub­ju­ga­tion. The ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing through a pe­riod in his­tory that can feel like a par­tic­u­larly jittery melo­drama is likely to mean we re­quire less ex­cite­ment from our art. Last week­end was the worst at the UK box of­fice in years, au­di­ences gripped in­stead by Thai­land, Brexit, the Sal­is­bury mur­der, the World Cup – and the weather. This week­end, the Wim­ble­don fi­nals and the visit of Don­ald Trump join the lineup of liv­ing, breath­ing at­trac­tions.

Cinema’s at­tempt to tempt us from the real-life ac­tion comes cour­tesy of Sky­scraper, in which for­mer wrestler The Rock does bat­tle with a high place – a 240-storey build­ing, filled with flames, ter­ror­ists, his wife and his chil­dren. On the plus side, it’s re­as­sur­ingly un­re­al­is­tic – dis­as­ter movies ide­ally now need to be based on a long-past tragedy or be self-ev­i­dently ba­nanas. The big set-piece has The Rock, al­ready miss­ing a leg, scal­ing the world’s most enor­mous crane, then leap­ing from it through red-hot, plate-glass win­dows.

But on the mi­nus side, it can’t help but feel hol­low, even un­am­bi­tious, next to the head­lines. “My fam­ily is the only thing that mat­ters to me,” says The Rock as he flings him­self down a lift shaft. The divers in Thai­land weren’t risk­ing – and in one case, los­ing – their lives be­cause they were re­lated to the boys. The pas­sen­gers on United 93 worked to­gether in anony­mous al­tru­ism. Ev­ery hour, so­cial me­dia feeds us every­day sto­ries of peo­ple help­ing out strangers – good sa­mar­i­tans ap­par­ently un­mo­ti­vated ei­ther by the prom­ise of a place in heaven or the con­tin­u­a­tion of their own blood­line.

Small won­der the movies seem in­signif­i­cant. But sim­ply re­peat­ing real life, in an almighty hurry, is un­likely to be the way to make them rel­e­vant again.

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