Who Hijacked Our Country

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chernobyl Diaries

Has anyone seen Chernobyl Diaries?  It came out last spring; we just watched the DVD last night.  It wasn’t great — Zero character development — but it was entertaining; sort of a Ukrainian version of The Hills Have Eyes.

Basically, six teen/twenty-something tourists are visiting Kiev, and they decide to take an “extreme tourism” trip to the deserted city of Pripyat (Ukraine) where thousands of Chernobyl workers had lived until the 1986 nuclear explosion.  Anyway, we’ve all seen enough sci-fi movies where radiation victims turn into monsters, and then somebody wanders into the wrong place at the wrong time, and…

The movie was condemned by a lot of international relief organizations for using one of the worst tragedies in recent history as fodder for a horror movie.  Here and here are two examples.

One person said:

“Seeing teenagers taking a vacation at Chernobyl, as if they were going to Disney World, shocked me deeply.  Anyone visiting Chernobyl should have the same respect as if they were visiting Auschwitz or the Khmer Rouge Museum in Cambodia…They are making a real horror situation into a joke! This is pure indifference to the reality of the tragedy.”

350,000 people had to evacuate Pripyat immediately when the Chernobyl reactor exploded.  No time to pack any belongings or personal items — nothing.  Leave NOW!  The official death toll was 9,000; a lot of people think the real numbers are much much higher.

In the early scenes, before the action started, the movie did a good job of showing block after block of huge empty Soviet-style apartment buildings.  Buildings, streets, parks, a non-functioning Ferris wheel — all deserted; frozen in time.  The “tour” group also went inside some of the deserted apartments and saw people’s belongings strewn all around, lying exactly where they'd been left 26 years earlier.

For me, the movie actually did personify and humanize something that had been mostly just a news item.  For decades we’ve been bombarded with news of one mass tragedy after another.  Chernobyl was one of many.  We read about it in the papers, we heard graphic descriptions on the evening news, and then soon afterward, the next Earth-shaking news story came along and pushed Chernobyl off the radar.

I’ve been really thinking about Chernobyl Diaries a lot since last night.  Not because it was a great movie, but because the movie inspired me to look for articles describing the humanity, the devastation and heartbreak, that Chernobyl meant to hundreds of thousands of people.  350,000 refugees can never go home again, and a lot of them are still suffering from the radiation effects.



Blogger Demeur said...

It was a few years after the accident that I got my Haz Mat certification and that was about the time film from the accident started coming out. I recall one worker hauling a wheel barrow full (what I later found out was lead) of material in a tunnel dug under the reactor. He was wearing only a dust mask, gloves, regular pants, rubber boots and no shirt. I knew he would be dead in a matter of days.

We have discussed the accident several times in my re-certification classes. The situation is not much better. They are building a new dome over the reactor but that will take years to complete.

January 27, 2013 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

I can't speak for this specific director/production team, but that's kind of a major theme of horror movies, dealing with our deepest fears, some old, some new. Regardless of whether this flick is good or not (I haven't seen it), of course there will be movies using radiation sickness, or toxic waste, or Nazis, or aliens masquerading as commies, etc.

January 28, 2013 at 6:17 AM  
Blogger S.W. Anderson said...

I can understand filmmakers doing this, but I salute those who object out of respect and compassion. If the movie serves as a cautionary tale that makes clear how badly things can go wrong and how we should retain healthy skepticism about the knowledge and skill of technical wizards and technocrats, it will be of service to mankind.

As a side note, I remember reading years ago about how during the height of the Cold War in 1950's, there were several horrendous nuclear accidents in Central Russia. The CIA knew about them but didn't publicize what it knew. The Russians didn't let on internationally, probably because doing so would have undermined their image as a superpower with top-tier technological prowess and fully a match for the U.S. Some of those accidents resulted in considerable loss of life, I'm sure, and caused some areas to be made off limits.

January 28, 2013 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Demeur: Chernobyl would make an excellent learning tool for Haz Mat certification classes, sort of a "This is what Not to do" example.

Randal: There'll probably be some horror movies based on the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year.

SW: For me, the movie sparked my interest in reading about real-life examples of how this disaster affected people (and still is). But I can certainly see how the people who were close to this disaster would be offended by the movie.

January 28, 2013 at 7:54 PM  

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