In April 1986, a nuclear accident occurred that would change the world. Those who are old enough to remember the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant recall a frightening time filled with uncertainty, confusion, and disbelief. The Soviet Union was a scary place filled with evil people and the idea of them having so much power was terrifying.
Those who have seen HBO’s Chernobyl saw a powerful account of the ghastly accident. The miniseries does a great job of discussing the disaster while taking a deep look at the Soviet state itself. Cold War era Russia has been depicted in many ways in film and television. The five episode HBO miniseries is one of the most realistic and frightening.
I was in third grade when the accident happened. I knew little about nuclear radiation, except that it was dangerous. My first thoughts were if the radiation could somehow get to America. Movies had taught me that air could become radioactive. I could not help but wonder if that poisoned air would spread across the world and kill me.
Chernobyl does an amazing job of somehow making radiation seem more deadly than it really is. Movies have shown audiences that radiation poison can lead to mutants, zombies, and a lifeless wasteland. The reality that Chernobyl presents is far worse. The later episodes of the miniseries show the disgusting effects that radiation has on the human body. The infected from the plant are just as horrific as many of the creatures seen in today’s horror movies.
The show also has viewers fearful of every action and movement they see. Rain, watering the yard, and even someone hugging their child are incredibly powerful moments. Everything each person in Chernobyl does seems to be leading to death somewhere else. There is a constant sense of dread that hangs over every episode. There is never a moment when anyone feels safe.
The 1980s may have been the waning years of the Cold War, but it did not make the Soviet Union any less frightening. Nowhere was it more clear how evil the USSR was than in the popular culture. Films like Red Dawn and Rocky IV showed audiences how heartless the Soviets were. There were television shows and books in which the heroes had to deal with the treacherous KGB. There were even video games were subtle titles like Rush ‘n Attack.
The HBO miniseries’s version of Soviet Russia is a less trigger-happy but somehow more intimidating look at the Soviet Union. Initially, it comes off as incompetence and a refusal by the government to buy adequate equipment. While this certainly plays a huge factor in the events at Chernobyl, it is the willful ignorance of the state and the fear it induces that will stay most with the viewer.
Chernobyl is a series of head shaking moments by members of the Soviet government. It is more important to show their power and superiority to the rest of the world than to let the people of Russia know the truth. The amount the government officials know is shocking. It is also horrifying how far the KGB will go to ensure the Soviet people are unaware of what is really going on. Chernobyl does a better job than any anti Communist propaganda created during the Cold War.
Whether you remember the actual accident or not, HBO’s Chernobyl is one of the best and most terrifying miniseries of the year. As frightened as I was by what happened, my childhood mind could not comprehend what had actually happened at that nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union. The miniseries certainly gave me deeper insight to how large the tragedy was and how much worse it could have been. As great as Chernobyl is, I think I would have preferred not knowing.
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