Director: Johan Renck
Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson
HBO’s five-part miniseries, Chernobyl, is based on the biggest man-made disaster in history and its aftermath. As far as disasters go, we don’t need to look far from our own backyard. Events like the Bhopal Gas tragedy have made people aware of the magnitude of such disasters. However, Chernobyl gives us a different point of view.
It might be true that Chernobyl was an accident that no one intentionally set off. But the mini-series gives you a perception that it might be a product of a culture of favouritism, indolence and unawareness. The literature on the disaster says that the Soviet government had below par reactors and to top it off, they were coupled with an incompetent staff which couldn’t manage its mechanics.
Chernobyl has its heart and soul in the right places, so much so that you get attached to the characters of the show. There are secondary stories that work with the baseline and connect to some plot points further into the story. It’s all brilliantly done and you’ll always be at the edge watching the mysteries build up and then get solved.
Each episode is carved out in a distinct way, a complete story in itself. The show starts minutes before the disaster and everything starts to unravel slowly. The government sends two member crew to study the accident – Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) and Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård). While Legasov realises that the accident is not as minor as he is told, it is only when they reach the disaster site that he is hit by ramifications of the tragedy with full force.
The first episode 1:23:45 rests upon the fear, confusion and indifference of the government officials who try to suppress the disaster, whereas, the second episode exposes the severity of the situation and in the third episode, one gets to see the devastating aftereffects of the incident.
Unlike the people in the show, the viewer is very much aware of the dangers from a nuclear power plant and yet it is thrilling to see characters jump into the action without any hesitation whatsoever. For instance, in the aftermath of the explosion that left the reactor core open, firefighters—the first respondents to reach the site, start to put out the fire without any protective gear. This one is not easy to watch and realising the disturbing effects it had on the people, it will want you to do something about it.
The indolence of the government is also subtly hinted in scenes when coal miners talk about masks, while they work without any piece of clothing on their body. That’s when you know that the cost of human lives in harsh situations like these don’t matter anymore.
The government actively tries to withhold critical information by ordering the city to be shut down so that the citizens don’t panic and spread misinformation, or as we come to know, any information at all. Mostly, it is the unawareness of the people in the city that costs them their lives.
Conversely, the fourth episode, The Happiness of All Mankind, gives a rational turn to the plot. Rescue operations begin, thousands of residents are asked to evacuate their houses and a number of innocent animals are killed in the fear of spreading radiations.
Chernobyl doesn’t waver off from establishing the hook early on. ‘How does an RMBK rector explode?’, forms the baseline of the plot. Scientists and experts alike, everyone has a very firm belief that this type of rector doesn’t explode. It’s a long wait but we do get to know how that happens in the final episode and it’s ingenious, to say the least. Till the time we are being explained the reason behind the explosion, we already are aware of the working of a nuclear reactor.
Being a mini-series, Chernobyl doesn’t have a fast pace. It takes its time building everything up but the season finale answers majorly every question that you had while watching the series. As gripping a story as Chernobyl is, it requires an equally complimenting background score, and the show-makers don’t disappoint. The music throughout this five-part miniseries is intense and almost ominous. There’s danger looming all around and the music just amps it up to the level where you start feeling empathy towards the people of the city.
There are disaster movies like Deepwater Horizon (2016) or Contagion (2011) but Chernobyl is one of a kind that delves into the mechanics and the aftermath of a disaster. All in all, the mini-series lives up the hype and is a must watch.
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