The post-nuclear worlds: Eight movies about nuclear energy

    03 Jul 2021

    What’s wrong with nuclear energy? Proponents of this industry say that “the atom will save the world” and all of us from the climate crisis. Meanwhile, environmental activists say the opposite.

    Let’s start the investigation of how nuclear energy is represented in art and mass culture. We’re thankful to Ecoaction NGO for a brilliant review.

    Let’s check a selection of legendary movies and TV series that will definitely not leave you indifferent to the issues of environmental protection and the feasibility of using nuclear energy. Be careful! There may be spoilers.

    Silkwood (1983)

    An American drama film based on real-life events of Karen Silkwood, an activist with the International Union of Oil, Chemical and Nuclear Workers. At first glance, her life is boring, except that she is played by Meryl Streep. Karen works at a plutonium processing plant, where management does not care about the safety of employees and forces them to work overtime.

    After Karen and her colleagues are exposed to radiation, she learns of a number of manufacturing violations and decides to act. Silkwood wants to give an exclusive interview to The New York Times about everything that happens at the plant. The film perfectly depicts the atmosphere of the life of workers in small towns. In addition, the cast (the film also stars Cher and Kurt Russell) and the story of Silkwood, whose death has not yet been investigated, will surely arouse great interest in you.

    The China Syndrome (1979)

    American thriller and disaster film about the events at a nuclear power plant in the United States. TV reporter Kimberly Wells and her cameraman accidentally witnessed the accident at the nuclear power plant, which led to its sudden shutdown. All this the operator manages to secretly film on camera despite the ban of the station management. But the channel where Kimberly works don’t present the video shooting, and the energy company is trying to cover up the incident without proper investigation to restore power.

    Meanwhile, station worker Jack Godell, excited by the situation, analyzes what could have led to the accident and finds fake documents. This means that the station has not been properly inspected before launch. Like Karen Silkwood, Godell wants to tell the civil society about the danger, but the station’s management is doing everything to prevent this from happening.

    The name “Chinese syndrome” comes from the jargon of nuclear physicists and means a hypothetical accident with the melting of a nuclear reactor. Scientists joked that on the scale of such a catastrophe, nuclear fuel could melt the Earth and reach as far as China.

    Hayao Miyazaki’s atomic worlds

    Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is known worldwide for his skill and unique style of depicting the environment. Nature in his cartoons is always a living organism, a complex and integral system. And it often has as much darkness as beauty. In addition to the pronounced motifs of coexistence of man and nature, which are present in almost all Ghibli cartoons, Miyazaki’s work has found a place for nuclear weapons, wars and disasters.

    “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds” (1984)

    One such masterpiece was “Nausicaä”, the impetus for which was a series of ecological crises in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s.

    So, the plot: most of the Earth’s territory is covered with poisonous forest, and it is inhabited by mutant insects Oma, and few “clean” areas are inhabited by humans.

    Such a place is the Valley of the Winds. Princess Nausicaä, like all the inhabitants of the Valley, coexists peacefully with nature and worships the wind. But she is distinguished from others by a strong desire to explore the world around her, and it is she who is able to unravel the mystery of the toxic forest. One critic called “Nausicaä” a movie that addresses adults with a clear message against environmental and nuclear pollution. And although there is no direct mention of the nuclear catastrophe in the cartoon, the unique world of Nausicaä gives us clues that we have before us a metaphorical depiction of life after a nuclear explosion.

    Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

    This is an easy story about two friends of Pazu and Sita, who go together in search of the mysterious flying island of Laputa. Sita has a special connection with the world of nature and a magic pendant that allows her to fly. It is he who will show them the way to Laputa.

    “Laputa’s Heavenly Castle” could be a children’s fairy tale. But, as in all of Miyazaki’s works, there is a powerful metaphor behind external naivety. Once on the island, Sita realizes that there is a huge crystal – a source of powerful energy, which in the hands of villains can become a weapon of mass destruction. The ending of the story symbolizes the director’s clear anti-nuclear position.

    Music video “On Your Mark” (1995)

    In 1995, Hayao Miyazaki shot an animated clip for a song by the Japanese band Chage and Aska.

    This director’s work is not as popular as full-length cartoons, but for us, it is extremely interesting. The plot was based on the events at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In an interview, Miyazaki said it was his reflection on what life would be like after the end of the world as a result of a nuclear disaster. Is there a place for humanity in this chaotic reality? Turn on the video to understand!

    We knew that some movies would not be enough for you, so we added several series here.

    HBO Chernobyl (2019)

    Probably everyone has heard of “Chernobyl” from HBO. But if you suddenly missed this wave of information, the miniseries “Chernobyl” is a film adaptation of the events that took place on April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

    “What is the price of a lie? The horror is not that we believe it to be true. And in the fact that when we hear lies for a long time, we stop acknowledging the truth.”

    From these words of the main narrator Valery Legasov the series begins, and they become the leitmotif of everything that happens in the next five series. Critics praise the series for its impressive illustrations of the horror people experienced and the impeccable acting. There is much more to be said for Chernobyl, but most of all for making it think again and again about the scale of the tragedy, the scale of the lies, and the cost of human life. And most importantly – mistakes that should not be repeated.

    Dark (2017-2020)

    «Dark» is a German sci-fi series from Netflix that often takes your breath away, ants run through your skin, and your brains boil. However, it was very well appreciated by both viewers and critics. The events of the series take place in the small German town of Winden, where the nuclear power plant operates. At first, it seems that the station does not play any role in the life of the city and the characters, but it is in it that all the plot twists are sharpened.

    The «Dark» is a reference to the Chernobyl disaster, as well as the danger of radiation, which is intertwined with mystical events and time travel. We do not want to reveal all the cards to you, but this series will definitely be able to impress you with a mysterious and intense plot, mystical aesthetics, and, last but not least, a logical and well-thought-out script.

    The Simpsons (1989 – present)

    If you have never seen The Simpsons and are now reading our selection, this is a sign of destiny to watch the cult series or at least a couple of its series. The Simpsons is a satirical parody of the life of the average American family. Over the long years of filming (there are currently 32 seasons and more than 700 series), the cartoon series covered the problematic aspects of almost all areas of human activity, especially nuclear energy.

    The protagonist and father of the Homer Simpson family works as a safety inspector at Sprigfield NPP (first appearing in Episode 3 of Season 1 of Homer’s Odyssey). The work of a nuclear power plant in the Simpsons universe is very absurd and exaggerated, but rather interesting. For example, there’s a brilliant depiction of the situation with the disposal of nuclear waste. Springfield employees often leave them in cans on playgrounds, parks, and ponds. It’s all very funny, but who knows what we will do in decades to come with waste in reality.

    Speaking about nuclear problems, we at Ecolife are very much intereted to write about the “Dreams” movie by Akiro Kurosawa, and about numerous post-apocalyptic works like “Threads” and “On the Beach.” Stay with us, we are working on it. 🙂

    You may read our review of the iconic movie “District 9” here.

    You’re curious about the last Johnny Depp environmentalism-oriented work? We’ve described “Minamata” here.

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