Column, Movie Diary

Holding your breath

On Aug. 5, 2010, no one could turn away from the events unfolding in the Atacama Desert on the outskirts of Chile. As the world watched, rescue teams were readying their specially designed capsule for a half-mile descent into the earth to free 33 trapped miners.

For nearly 70 days, these brave men were forced to endure an inhospitable 90+ degree existence while awaiting help from above. And while food and provisions had been readily available, it was the psychological stress that most worried those involved with the extraction.

In the first 17 days without contact with the surface and for weeks thereafter, the miners organized themselves for survival under the leadership of foreman Luis Urzua. They did this with an unusual level of cooperation and unity.

Meanwhile, teams of mining and other experts toiled above ground hoping to find a way to free the trapped miners. The odds were not in the miners’ favor as they were given a 2% chance of a successful release — and that would likely take a heartbreaking four months.

Rescue professionals knew that living within the tight confines of a cave under the constant duress associated with such circumstances can wreak havoc on an individual’s state of mind. But all that paled in comparison to the actual climb to the surface to freedom.

In the ensuing weeks, the miners were lifted one by one in a tiny metal cage during an unimaginable 20-minute ride through the earth. The biggest fear for rescuers: a collapse along the tunnel walls; the biggest fear for miners: the immense anxiety associated with the claustrophobic ride.

I have contemplated what this ascent might be like, and I fully admit that I’m not sure that I could handle it. I can ride an average-sized elevator to the top of a 100-story building without concern, but draw those walls tightly in on me where I can barely move my arms and all hell will break loose with my psyche.

In fact, my single worst fear in the world is being trapped in a situation where I am unable to move. How people survive underneath buildings after an earthquake amazes me. All I need to do is contemplate the experience and I immediately break into a cold sweat.

I watched the rescue take place because I knew how emotional the moment would be when that first miner emerged. And I shared that moment with millions of other people around the world as they also tuned in for the same hypnotic experience.

Events like this — where adversity is pitted against overwhelming odds — heighten the human experience and pull us together in immeasurable numbers. And while we may not directly experience the events, we do share in the triumph as the images and feelings are projected around the world.

Those who watched the lunar landing in 1969 know what I mean; those who witnessed the epic triumph of the USA hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics know what I mean; and, in a somewhat similar twist of fate, those who sat glued to their televisions in October of 1987 while rescuers pulled Baby Jessica out of an underground well know what I mean.

Together we bore witness to those grand events and together we were forever affected.

Not surprisingly, these situations make great storylines for motion pictures. And if the right director is coupled with the right actors and they in turn are coupled with a well-written script, then the emotions that were experienced during the actual event can be recreated with the same dramatic intensity. (Of course, the best scenario is a real-life documentary like “The Rescue,” which featured the unbelievable release of 13 young Thai soccer players trapped in a remote cave system.)

Well, this week’s feature, “The Bubble,” is also about a group of trapped individuals, but in this case the “victims” are entitled, self-absorbed Hollywood actors who are trying to make a film during the confines of a pandemic.

Directed by Judd Apatow and starring an ensemble cast consisting of Fred Armisen, David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, and Kate McKinnon, “The Bubble” is set at a quarantined English hotel where the group hope to film another installment of the sappy “Cliff Beasts” monster movie franchise.

What follows is a mild conglomeration of used-up bits about Hollywood elites and life during a pandemic. In essence, you’ve already joked about all these things 100 times with your friends. And honestly, it feels a little too soon to be airing them on the big screen.

A claustrophobic “C+” for “The Bubble,” which is available for viewing on Netflix.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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