Chernobyl’ Review –The Heavy Cost Of Lies
HBO’s latest mini-series ‘Chernobyl’ is based on the true incident of April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, which occurred in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Soviet Union).
The mini-series, consisting of only five episodes has been received with wide critical and public acclaim. As someone who knew nothing about the ‘the Chernoby incident’, except that it was based on a nuclear disaster of some magnitude, I was reluctant to watch the series thinking it will be too gruesome or filled with complex scientific jargon that will go well over my head. But after seeing the reactions on social media and reading the glowing reviews I decided to watch it anyway.
‘Chernobyl’ because of its hard hitting and disturbing retelling of one of the biggest man-made disasters in history, stayed with me for days after I finished watching the last episode, and more than deserves the distinction of being the highest rated TV show ever on IMDB.
‘Chernobyl’ is not your typical disaster flick like ‘Armageddon’ or ‘Geostorm’ but a comprehensive look at the causes, consequences and cost of when the unthinkable happens – a nuclear reactor explosion. Nor is it, contrary to the reports, a total indictment of the Soviet Union or its officials. The series instead focuses on the downside of an all-powerful state apparatus that breeds on lies operates in secrecy and demands its orders be followed without question.
The lies told by soviet officials, immediately following the disaster cost thousands of innocents their lives. The lies were not malicious in nature but rather a by-product of a state that revered its image more than lives of its citizens. In world’s history, this culture of secrecy at the highest echelon of the state has not been exclusive to communist governments. Every nation has fallen prey to the concept of appearances especially during times of conflict, and ‘Chernobyl’ occurred during the Cold War when the Soviet Union was obsessed with protecting its image and appearing as strong as its arch-rival – the United States of America.
This image of strength required above all the illusion of a strong Soviet nuclear programme with no hint of vulnerability, or so the higher party officials and KGB thought. However, there was vulnerability, a scientific/technical fault. At time of the ‘Chernobyl’ disaster ever nuclear power plants in the USSR was equipped with a failsafe option; the button AZ-5 pressing which would immediately shut down the reactor preventing it from a meltdown.
But due to a technical glitch before shutting it down, pressing the button caused a spike in the reactor’s temperature, a fact that was kept from the top engineer of a nuclear facility because revealing it meant exposing a chink in the armor of the Soviet’s nuclear programme something that the powers that be decided they couldn’t have and therefore the unthinkable happened and a nuclear reactor exploded.
“What is the danger of lies?” ‘Chernobyl’ opens with this line by Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), who was the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster. Harris, is impeccable in his role as the series protagonist. The other lead character is that of Stellan Skarsgard played by Boris Scherbina, the official who along with Legasov was in charge of the immediate fallout following the disaster.
Scherbina’s character initially comes off as a typical bureaucrat –stubborn and arrogant. But as the repercussions of the disaster settle in, he evolves and the true man behind the facade of the party official emerges, determined to do everything in his power and more, to prevent a catastrophe. Emily Watson gives a commendable performance as another prominent character; Ulana Khomyuk, a nuclear physicist. Khomyuk character is fictional and represents the many scientists who worked fearlessly and put themselves in a lot of danger to help solve the situation.
The series also brings out the resilience of Russian people and their willingness to risk lives in service of something greater than themselves. After watching ‘Chernobyl’, one can’t help but admire the Russian people for their strong sense of duty to their country. For all its shortcomings, the Soviet Union government’s motto of state above self, did come in handy when dealing with a disaster of such huge magnitude.
In the end ‘Chernobyl’ without passing any judgement looks at the characters at the centre of the catastrophic incident and it’s extremely tragic human cost.