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Thirteen Lives (Christian Movie Review)

About The Movie

For eighteen days in 2018, the miraculous Tham Luang cave rescue gripped the world. Millions of people were glued to the news as the heroic efforts to rescue twelve young boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave unfolded like a Hollywood movie. Thus, it’s unsurprising that the real-life events would inevitably become a film. Thankfully, esteemed director Ron Howard proves to possess the perfect storytelling sensibilities for such a retelling. Thirteen Lives is a superb, excellently crafted film that is as intense as it is inspiring. 

The movie is bolstered by a strong ensemble cast, highlighted by Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farell, Joel Edgerton, and Tom Bateman. Each one of them shines in his role. Thirteen Lives, however, is not a story about individuals. Enough details are provided to establish their characters as real people with lived histories, but none of these backstories are explored in much depth. Rather, Thirteen Lives is the story of community—both local and global. From start to finish, the focus is on the rescue operation.

The compelling story is treated with excellent, immersive cinematography. The audience feels the suffocating claustrophobia of the submerged caves. Despite a lengthy 2:19 runtime, the film maintains constant tension.  Even when the pace slows down in the middle as the rescue plans and preparations are made, the dire urgency of the situation is always apparent. When the rescue operation takes place, comprising almost the entire final hour of the film, it has viewers holding their breath.

The film is beautifully shot and constructed, yet it lacks some of the expected Hollywoodization (and I mean that as a positive). Howard demonstrates restraint, rarely forcing or manufacturing excitement. He allows the inherent drama of the real-life events to stand on its own. In a year filled with relatively hollow, spectacle-driven blockbusters, Thirteen Lives stands out as one of the best films of the year.


On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Compelled By Love

The film is appropriately titled Thirteen Lives. How much is life worth, and to what lengths will people go to save it? Although not ascribing any direct Christian motivation to the rescue efforts, the movie hints at the biblical declaration, “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Many characters make great personal sacrifices, such as farmers flooding their fields to divert the water from the caves. The film makes it clear that many unsung heroes were involved in the operation in addition to the divers. An end card reveals that more than 5000 people from 17 nations came to contribute to the rescue effort. In a speech thanking the volunteers for their many sacrifices, the governor notes, “You ask for nothing in return. But I know you all did this for one reason. The love for the boys.”.

Unity and Shared Humanity

The rescue operation is an international effort comprised of people from diverse ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and walks of life. In the beginning, there are hostilities and mistrust among the group. Thankfully, the film doesn’t overly dramatize these tensions, but the friction is evident. For example, the Thai navy seals feel a sense of competition with the older British divers. As the days drag on and the rescue becomes increasingly urgent, pettiness and hostility are set aside for the good of the trapped boys. The navy seals recognize that, despite their youth, their open-water training is not as adequate as the older divers’ experience in tight caves.

In the Bible, Paul writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). The film is a reminder that our differences are not as important as our shared humanity and that hostility is set aside when we unite for a greater, common purpose. 

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