Chernobyl


Greyness is how I've kicked off 2020, watching first The Road (2009) then HBO's miniseries Chernobyl (2019). No special reason for these choices except perhaps that I've been feeling good lately, after ten days off for the holidays. I can handle the doom and gloom, I suppose. It's when I get worn down that I put on the comedies. The more exhausted, the worse the TV or flick.


But Chernobyl . . . What a masterpiece. It demands all your attention (roughly five hours of it) and does this so urgently you might feel weary or hungover after a Sunday binge, which is what I did and how I felt. A Golden Globe and Emmy winner, Chernobyl not only has all the best ingredients (stellar acting, writing, cinematography, pacing, etc.); it feels like required viewing for our times. Obviously it's about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of April 1986, but it's equally about the consequences of "authoritative" lying. When the state, doesn't matter which one, deems it necessary to hoodwink their people for whatever reason—nationalistic pride, secrecy on the world stage, denial and shame—and people die as a result. It's also bulls-eye relevant to the present day in that it shows how brutally disastrous humans can be for the environment, not to mention there are currently around 450 nuclear reactors in operation around the world in over 30 countries, or that 14 serious accidents/incidents alone have occurred at nuclear power plants since Chernobyl in 1986.


Then there's the art. Albert Camus once said, "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." The creators of Chernobyl had to've kept this in mind as they incorporated their message that lying erodes and harms, that each lie owes a debt to the truth, that the truth eventually surfaces. Ulana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson) is a nuclear physicist from Minsk in the miniseries, and yet we're told at the end there never was a Khomyuk; she's rather a stand-in for all the nuclear physicists who were called upon to help clean up after the disaster. I glanced at the photo at the end of the final episode (episode five), of the actual physicists, and don't recall seeing any women. So Khomyuk serves another purpose as well; she's a female character filling a required slot in modern-day storytelling (for a modern-day audience in need of and hungry for female heroes), even though the series is about an event that took place at a time when women were much less, if at all, in the picture, so to speak. But the message is delivered in the most effective and appropriate way we, the audience of now, will absorb it. The Soviet powers altered the story too, but for reasons far different in design and intent, or so we're told in Chernobyl. While they tried to bury the actual story in lies, Chernobyl as fiction uncovers a few of our world's inherent truths. It's a brilliant and important series worth every minute of viewing.

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