TEXT: Dina Klyuchareva, author of the telegram channel One Oscar For Leo
May 6 on HBO started the mini-series "Chernobyl" about one of the most terrible anthropogenic catastrophes of the 20th century - the explosion at the reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. Small, but strikingly capacious and tense, "Chernobyl" is not at all an entertaining sight: it is both a chronicle of the disaster itself, and a story about the difficult elimination of its terrible consequences. We will tell you in more detail how the creators managed to fit apocalyptic horror, political thriller, judicial drama and human tragedy in five hours and recreate in detail the portrait of the Soviet era and the mentality of the 80s.
The opening episode begins with a scene of the suicide of one of the main characters and drags the viewer into an atmosphere of hopelessness from the very first seconds. Chemist Valery Legasov is recording on audiocassettes a report on how everything really happened in Chernobyl. He puts food for the cat, packs the cassettes in newsprint, goes to throw out the trash in front of the KGB agent watching him, and imperceptibly throws a bunch of cassettes into the street hiding place. Returns home and commits suicide.
The hanging is followed by a flashback two years ago: at 1:23 am on April 26, 1986, a pregnant firefighter's wife gets out of bed and accidentally notices a bright flash on the horizon, followed a few seconds later by a blast wave shaking the house. The action moves to the walls of the nuclear power plant, where the ignorant workers in white coats look around in confusion, and their boss Dyatlov falls into categorical denial, despite the fact that he saw with his own eyes in the yard of the station pieces of graphite that serve as a shell for a radioactive rod.
The situation is deteriorating exponentially: Dyatlov reports to the leadership of the Chernobyl NPP that everything is under control, the leadership, in turn, informs the party about this. Meanwhile, the wind carries smoke contaminated with radiation across the territories of the USSR and Europe, and residents of Pripyat, a "paradise town" of increased comfort, built specifically for Chernobyl workers, gather on the bridge with their children to admire the unusual glow over the station - it falls beautifully from the sky. radioactive ash. Meanwhile, the firefighters, called to extinguish the fire over the reactor, feel that something is wrong: those who come too close to the station have a "nuclear tan" on their faces, and one of them, who lifted a piece of graphite from the ground, starts screaming in pain - his hand melts from radiation right under the protective glove.
When it becomes obvious that something very bad is happening, an emergency council is convened in the Kremlin, headed by Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev. The ministers are trying to smooth over suspicions and assure him that everything will be fine, but the expert chemist Legasov gives a voice and declares that an atomic disaster has occurred at the station. Gorbachev sends him and an aggressive party official Boris Shcherbina to deal with the accident. Later, they are joined by Ulyana Khomyuk, a physicist from Belarus, who discovered radioactive isotopes in precipitation on her own window hundreds of kilometers from Chernobyl. In five episodes, they consistently reveal the picture of the disaster from the standpoint of its various participants and liquidators. The first series is a chronicle of the accident itself, the second is about the scientists involved in solving the problem, the third is about the victims, the fourth is about the liquidators and soldiers who worked in the exclusion zone, the fifth is about the trial of the perpetrators of the disaster.
Chernobyl was directed by Johan Renk, a Swedish music video maker who directed videos for Madonna, Kylie Minogue and David Bowie, as well as several episodes of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Vikings.The showrunner of the project is screenwriter Craig Mazin, whose previous comedy filmography looks, to put it mildly, irrelevant - two parts of "Scary Movie", two parts of "The Bachelor Party" and "Snow White and the Huntsman - 2". However, the HBO management did not put off such a track record, and Mazin was ordered to write the script for the pilot of "Chernobyl" According to the author, the case was decided not so much by the script as by the bible of the project, which he brought with him: a detailed study of the topic and elaborated lines of the main characters of the story.
The Soviet entourage of the series, authentic to the smallest nuances, will amaze even skeptical viewers. Polished walls, reports printed on a typewriter "Lyubava", draped satin curtains and frayed railings inside the nuclear power plant, as well as muted tones of the video sequence passed through a color filter, create a persistent feeling that this is not a series shot by one of the giants of television in the 21st century. and faded photographs or newsreels from the times of the USSR.
The same applies to the realism of events and characters. Of course, it is impossible to fully fit in five o'clock a plausible story about a disaster of this magnitude, and even from different points of view. Some moments had to be highlighted, some were omitted (for example, Legasov had a wife and children, but they do not appear in the series), but still the creators insist that they did not think of anything and did not twist the drama on purpose.
“We had one rule: if we change something in the chain of real events, then only in order to better convey the story. We did not dramatize, exaggerate or exaggerate - it was all for real. For us, this is a story about the truth. The last thing we wanted was to fall into the same trap as all those liars. This is a carefully prepared reconstruction of the actual events in the format of a television drama,”says Mazin.
The screenwriter wrote the roles of Shcherbina, Legasov and Khomyuk with an eye to Stellan Skarsgard, Jared Harris and Emily Watson and was amazed to the core when all three agreed to play their heroes. Of all three, only Ulyana Khomyuk, played by Emily Watson ("Breaking the waves", "Genius", "Gosford Park"), is a character without a real prototype, a collective image of several scientists who found out that the readings of the instruments do not agree with the fact that say the authorities, and made an important contribution to the elimination of the accident.
The figures of chemist Valery Legasov and party functionary Boris Shcherbina are absolutely real. Jared Harris (Mad Men, Terror, Crown), already a recognized master at playing doomed characters, is flawless here. His Legasov is a selfless scientist, holder of a high position (deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy) and one of the few who understands the real danger of what is happening and is not afraid to speak out against government officials, despite the threat to his own career. The main thing for him is to save thousands of people and half of the Eurasian continent from the monstrous radioactive contamination. The real Valery Legasov was the same - on his own initiative, he spent a total of four months on the territory of the contaminated zone (instead of the allowable 2-3 weeks), which significantly undermined his health.
A worthy tandem with him is Stellan Skarsgard in the role of Boris Shcherbina, a high-ranking apparatchik who in one episode evolves from a mossy bureaucrat into an active and irrepressible hero. Skarsgård is transforming into a Soviet official so convincingly that one would like to call this role the pinnacle of his career. His hero is a government employee who for years worked as a mouthpiece for the authorities, but in the face of a catastrophe, he realizes that following the party's line is not only meaningless, but also mortally dangerous for half of humanity.In a square coat and with an impenetrable face, loud and uncompromising at the beginning of the second series, by the end of the episode he turns into crushed by the terrible truth (Legasov almost indifferently informs him: "You and I will die within five years"), but not a desperate person who fulfills his duty to his homeland.
He is no longer an antagonist, but an ally of Legasov, and together they accomplish the almost impossible - what Harris's hero says in plain text: "You and I are trying to fix something that has never happened before." Shcherbina brings the matter to mind where the intellectual Legasov is powerless: he motivates the workers to save thousands of people, but a suicidal mission for themselves, gets vehicles to evacuate residents and tons of sand to extinguish the fire. The real Boris Shcherbina showed even greater heroism - two years after the Chernobyl accident, he led the commission for eliminating the consequences of a devastating ten-point earthquake in Armenia, despite the fact that even then radiation sickness had a strong effect on his well-being.
The tragedy in Chernobyl became a clear demonstration of the gap between the courage of ordinary people and the cowardly stubbornness of bureaucrats. It turned out that the propaganda system and its cogs are powerless in the face of real danger if they do not listen to scientists and experts, and all the delays in liquidation and timely evacuation were due to the fault of party reinsurers and the backwardness of technology. For example, it was argued for almost a day that the radiation background was not high enough to raise a panic and carry out an evacuation - while it turned out that the background was measured by outdated meters, which simply did not have enough scale to show the exceeding of indicators by several thousand times.
The Soviet leadership, trying not to lose face in front of the West, stated that the situation was not catastrophic until abnormal radiation indicators were recorded at the Swedish nuclear power plant and the alarm was sounded throughout Europe - because it was possible to hide the truth, but the radioactive isotopes are no longer there. Despite the fact that the number of victims of the accident and its consequences, according to the official version, is about four thousand people, there is still debate about the real human losses - and the causes of the accident. The number of victims is difficult to estimate, the consequences of radiation sickness can manifest themselves over time, provoking the development of cancer (which could be caused by other factors), and due to an overall increase in mortality.
The phenomenon of "Chernobyl" is that it addresses primitive human fear - the fear of death from uncontrollable elements. An atomic reaction cannot be extinguished with plain water, radiation has no taste, color or smell, and you will not feel when an invisible, deadly cloud envelops you. "Chernobyl" makes the viewer feel: fear of radiation, anger at close-minded officials who think only about covering their own rear, powerlessness from the inability to quickly solve this problem, despair that it is impossible without human sacrifice - on a par with its heroes … The depressing truth is that the Chernobyl disaster happened not only at the technical level, but also at the human level - due to ignorance at the highest levels of government. Those in power - both in the series, and often, alas, in life - are more afraid of humiliation and shame than radioactive contamination and many hundreds of deaths.
"Chernobyl" tells not only about officials, but about ordinary heroes who saved the world at the cost of their lives. Some knew that they were going to die, some did not, but somehow they all completed their task, and the series honors them in full and without embarrassment shows how monstrous their torments were. “Chernobyl” does not try to devalue the national trauma, but rather makes it closer and more understandable (including explaining the structure of a nuclear reactor in an accessible way) and turns the story itself into a warning - this is what happens if you ignore science and rely only on the human factor.
Perhaps it is the human factor that is one of the reasons why Russian cinema (with the exception of Alexander Mindadze's film "On Saturday" about one of the eyewitnesses of the accident) still almost does not allow itself a film concept of one of the main tragedies of the former Soviet Union. Whether it's the still-prevailing fear of Big Brother.Or is it that for Russians and Ukrainians, Chernobyl is something too personal, which is impossible to look at from the outside. In many families (including the author of this text) there are participants in the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident or those who lived at that moment within the radius of radiation exposure, fell from their habitable place, without any hope of returning home, and upon arrival threw everything into a distant landfill property because it is phonetic.
Or maybe it’s just scary to admit the thought that it was very close and may well be repeated one day - because of someone’s negligence, unwillingness to admit their mistakes and enter into dialogue with people.