On the dark side of the light-to-dark entertainment continuum, “Breaking Bad” makes its third comeback in my visionary life. It’s deliciously stuffed with outrageously bad human behavior, and I love it all. Over the years, I’ve spoken to dozens of people who have dropped out of the show based on a scene from the second episode of the first season. I advised them to look past this particular horror, as the dozens of murders from there are mostly not so gnarly. The reason I keep coming back over and over again is probably the same reason I chose to read “Stalingrad” when I was expecting my first child and not “What to expect when you expect”.
But while I revel in every bad trick from Walter White, I am also a contender for good tricks. I recently watched a movie and a play that both tell amazingly good, true stories of real events from the past 20 years. If you are one of those people for whom “Breaking Bad” and its violent cousins will never please, I would like to interest you in “The Rescue” and “Come From Away”.
The story of the rescue referenced in the title here should be familiar. In 2018, 13 young Thai footballers and their coach found themselves trapped in Tham Luang Cave, near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, the fourth longest cave in the country. It was almost monsoon season, and although it was dry when they entered to play, the cave was flooded while they were inside, forcing them to head for more terrain. high, which they found two kilometers away. Their situation made headlines around the world. This documentary film, directed by husband and wife team Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, is told from the point of view of the rescuers and reconstructed from over 87 hours of GoPro footage shot on location, as well as underwater reenactments. which they subsequently toured with the help of the participants.
More than 5,000 Thai and foreign military officers and experts from around the world participated in the 17-day effort to get the boys out. At first, a retired Thai Navy SEAL diver named Saman Gunan, who had volunteered to help, died when he lost consciousness while diving. Another, Beirut Pakbara, died in 2019 from a blood infection he contracted while in the cave.
The work to be accomplished required highly specialized cave divers. A local expatriate caver, Vern Unsworth, knew the names of the world’s top experts and handed a list of them to the Thai Home Secretary. He contacted Rick Stanton, in Coventry, England, who enlisted his regular diving partner John Volanthen, and the two headed east. They, in turn, enlisted a larger team from around the world, including Dr Richard Harris from Australia, who would be tasked with the most morally burdensome task of the rescue, that of rendering each of the boys unconscious, of tying them up. hands behind their backs and pushing their heads under the water, so that they could be led from the site of their trapping on the heights to the area they called room 3, where hundreds of soldiers and volunteers were waiting to transport them to safety. Harris is straightforward and outspoken about his feelings as he seduces each boy. “I didn’t feel good about all of this. It was like euthanasia.
The details of how the rescuers achieved the impossible were interesting, but what moved me about the movie was not what they did or how they did it, but their attitude. The amateur caving divers were a bunch of misfits. As Harris himself described, “Last chosen for the cricket team, first chosen for the cave rescue.” Another was proud that the emotional detachment that had been problematic in his personal life had finally been harnessed. I cringed as I watched each boy’s head collapse at the start of their three hour journey into the light of day. I applauded when I saw the children come out one after the other on green stretchers from the cave. I cried when I heard the terms their clumsy saviors used to refer to them. “My precious cargo”, “my boy” and “my child”.
“The Rescue” has had a limited theatrical release and is now available on National Geographic, via Disney Plus. (National Geographic owns the rights to the lifeguards’ stories, but Netflix has purchased the rights to the stories of the boys and their families, so we don’t directly hear from any of them here, but apparently there is a feature film informed by the boys now in the works.
The day after watching the movie, I traveled to New York City to sit for a friend, hoping to close 2021 with a mini writing retreat. I ended up instead on a whirlwind day in Manhattan with a group of my cousins. At the end of dinner, they rushed to find some last minute Broadway tickets, and I prepared to take the day off and recoup a few hours of writing time. But their mantra on such occasions is, “No woman is left behind,” so I was there at 6:58 am, walking through Times Square, heading to the marquee for “Come From Away”.
In the past 20 years since 9/11, I’ve read articles about families who have lost loved ones, visited Ground Zero, talked about it at length with family and friends who, like me , lived in the city at the time. But I hadn’t heard anything about the role played by Gander, Newfoundland. You have to look for good news. Bad news will always find you. Gander is a city the size of Great Barrington, but with an airport that could serve Los Angeles. In the early days of transatlantic air travel, it was a refueling station. So when the airspace was closed on September 11, 38 planes were ordered to land in Gander, and suddenly the city had twice as many people.
Show writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein, another wife and husband team, attended this makeshift community’s 10-year reunion and interviewed both locals and travelers. . Their completed project captures the story of a couple whose relationship disintegrates during their stay, of a single couple who reunite there, of a frenzied mother whose firefighter son is inaccessible and a gentle Gander resident leads to the town’s Catholic Church to pray, and a Muslim man who is subjected to an invasive strip search before being allowed to board the plane. Gander does not sleep for four days. All he does is feed, comfort, clothe and shelter strangers. On the way home, the grateful strangers set up a scholarship fund for Gander.
The circumstances of the film and the play are surprisingly different, but the underlying theme is the same. When we are called to rise above our own interests, we do so. As Rear Admiral Apakorn Youkongkaew of the Royal Thai Navy said in “The Rescue”: “People came together from all over the world. Different countries, different languages, different cultures, meet each other. There can be misunderstandings, but all you need is generosity and a common effort. I wonder how we could tap into our capacity for generosity and common effort in our ordinary daily life, when the many crises that call on us to rise above our own interests are not so immediate.