Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture – what’s new and old in entertainment.
The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 is a topic that many of us know a bit about, but which can be tough to understand fully. After all, the question of what exactly happened must be run through the filter of nuclear physics and the reporting of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. As such it can be difficult to feel you have a good grasp of what went wrong, and the full scope of the event.
HBO’s miniseries on the disaster, co-produced with Sky UK, titled Chernobyl offers an unflinching, cinematic take on the events of the nuclear explosion. Naturally, the show can be immensely disturbing and is simultaneously terrifying and upsetting, but it is also a tremendous story of human failure and a group of people rallying to right an incalculable wrong with global implications in the face of unprepared leadership and immense personal sacrifice. The show frustrates, challenges and informs its audience about a history lesson many of us were never properly given.
When watching Chernobyl, I was continuously reminded of humanity’s relative smallness compared with the forces of nature and our need for leaders willing to admit wrongdoing and to trust scientists and experts. If it weren’t based on a true story, the drama might feel overwrought or a little on the nose as a metaphor for the global response to issues such as global warming. Instead, it’s just a case study in the amount of damage humans can make and the bravery required to address such issues head-on.
The directing, cinematography and acting are all top-notch and, while it may not be escapist entertainment, Chernobyl offers filmmaking at the highest level.
Chernobyl is now streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now.
I’m Evan Rook.