One thought on “Chernobyl (2019, TV Miniseries)

  1. Here’s my original post in the TV thread:

    Chernobyl (2019, HBO miniseries)
    Dir. Johan Renck (written by Craig Mazin)

    If someone said this docudrama about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was among the greatest disaster movies of all time, I would not have strong objections. This is not only a terrific disaster movie thriller, but it also have a mystery sub-plot, revolving on what caused the disaster, and a political film about the importance of truth and facts.

    For whatever reason, I never really had a lot of interest in seeing this. However, so many of the people I respect on twitter raved about this series; the consensus and praise was really strong. But even with this praise, I was reluctant because I thought it would be too depressing. (Thankfully, it wasn’t, at least not overwhelmingly so.)

    More information that’s not full-blown spoilers, for those who are interested in knowing more:

    The film works as a disaster movie/thriller in that it shows the disaster unfolding and then the efforts to get the reactor under control. That’s one major story line. The series mainly follows a bureaucrat (Stellan Skarsgard) and a scientist (Jared Harris), as they struggle to find ways to stop the danger–and there are a myriad of tough challenges they have to solve.

    There’s also a mystery we learn about early on–namely, the reactor seems to have exploded, but all the scientists believe this is impossible. So what happened? One scientist, played by Emily Watson, goes in search of the answer, mainly interviewing the scientists who were at the reactor, but are at a hospital.

    The series also goes over the devastation and harm caused by the explosion, and it does a good job of explaining things in an accessible way (although the final explanation of the explosion was a little confusing for me).

    By the way, the show is very timely–specifically, to the pandemic. One takeaway or lesson from this: governments should really care about the truth, especially when it comes to disaster or events that can cause great damage to the people. The government needs good, accurate information in these situations, and there’s a huge price that people will pay if they don’t get this.

    Also, I’ve been listening a podcast with the writer, Craig Mazin. I like these podcasts because they do cover what was true and what was not true in the series.

    Speaking of which Masha Gessen, in the New Yorker has a rather scathy criticism of what the series of got wrong. (I’ve only listened to two podcasts, but so I’m not sure if Mazin addresses her criticisms.)

    I think her criticisms are valid. They mostly deal with the way the story creates heroes and villains in a way that is both dramatic and clear-cut. For her, the disaster was not caused by a few bad individuals, but the entire Soviet system. And she doesn’t like the way the hero-scientists speak to higher-ups, and the way they solve the mystery. (Read: Too Hollyood.) Again, I think these are valid.

    But while watching this, I think I understood that the scientists likely didn’t talk this way or solve the mystery in the way that it was depicted. It felt like a device to make the series more dramatic and entertaining. To me, the truths that were important to me: the science behind hwo it happened and that the system, built on lies, was really a big reason for the disaster. I think those truths came through the series.

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