April 26 2011 marks the 25 year anniversary of Chernobyl Day, the day the nuclear facility melted down in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The radioactive fallout from this catastrophe was devastating, leading to countless cases of cancer, birth defects and other serious illnesses. The world is still full of nuclear accidents waiting to happen (the recent problems in Japan were just waiting to occur, given the nation’s massive dependence on nuclear fuel and how prone they are to earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters). So because it’s timely to do so, I would like suggestions of films that deal with nuclear disaster, whether we are talking about nuclear terrorism (“Black Rain”) or a nuclear facility that malfunctions (“The China Syndrome”). List, discuss, pick the best nuclear films, talk about why they work, why some don’t work, et cetera. Please remember, I’m not after “Mad Max” type films set in a post-nuclea holocaust future or weirdo nuclear mutant stuff (although I shall gladly accept “El Santo versus The Martians” for its strong anti-nuclear message), but mainly I want films that deal directly with nuclear disasters. By the way, I had the chance to catch “Black Rain” at the cinema a few years ago at the Melbourne International Film festival but was unable to attend. I do remember seeing it some years ago on television—as you would expect, not a cheery film, but I’m amazed this film isn’t shown more frequently by the local (Melbourne) Cinemateque: I guess showing Fellini’s fondness of flatulence every year is more important. Hipsters got better things to do than give a damn about the world. Australia, being the second largest supplier of the yellow stuff, is as much to blame as anyone for the world’s outrageous consumption of nuclear fuel and construction of nuclear weapons.
P.S.—Shohei Imamura’s “Black Rain” is not to be confused with the Ridley Scott film of the same name featuring Michael Douglas. Both were released around the same time as each other but are two completely unrelated works.
There are a few good films that deal with nuclear disasters. The british “The War Game” is an early (and controversial) staple of the genre. “The Day After” and “Threads” were pretty shocking at the time and actually contributed to a greater awareness of nuclear issues and its tragic effects. The already mentioned “The China Syndrome” is a favorite of mine. It’s a very well crafted nail-biter with good acting and a prescient quality that gave it an ominous tone (the Three Mile Island nuclear facility incident happened just a few weeks after the film was released).
For things nuclear, maybe my list Films in the Shadow of the Bomb may be of interest
Given the risk to the whole of humankind it might have been expected that there would be more films on the subject, but given also the subject is grim and people tend to prefer a pleasurable than dark, anxiety-provoking experience, it’s not surprising. The Sacrifice has the optimism of the planting of a tree v the would-be disaster, as Tarkovsky’s send off, and in the 60s Kubrick gave the alternatives destinies for us; we may scupper the wondrous one. To infinity and beyond! Stalker is in a strange sort of zone, eerie but very beautifu film. I liked China Syndrome, and it was timely. With Japan’s current problems i heard it said by more than one “expert” and interviewer on the BBC that it showed how safe nuclear power is.
A man jumped off the top of a 90 storey building; as he passed 2 floors he shouted, “see, i told you it was safe”, as he scraped his leg on a balcony passing the next floor, he shouted, “ha, tis but a scratch, even with this wind”
An obvious recommendation is Chris Marker’s “La jetée”, a spellbinding account on the nuclear apocalypse made in the year of the Cuba Crisis. Alexander Kluge’s film “War and Peace” made in collaboration with Schlöndorff, Böll and other intellectuals of the era can be regarded as a definite statement of the 1980s against the nuclear war. There’s also Murakami’s animated feature “When the Wind Blows”, just like Lopushansky’s dark and disturbing “Dead Man’s Letters” (video below) it was made in 1986 and first released a few months after the catastrophe of Chernobyl.
Thanks for that.
As well as When the Wind Blows, in the UK in the 80s there was the TV landmark Threads, imagining nuclear disaster in Sheffield.
Those polluted 80s
Gotta love industrial capitalism.
Has anyone here seen “Silkwood” (1983) and if so, did you find the film satisfactory? “The China Syndrome” (1979) is more than just a cautionary film about nuclear disaster, it’s another great film about the world of television. “On The Beach” (1959) was filmed largely in my home city (Melbourne). I saw this on the big screen at a 50 year anniversary screening. Let me tell you, seeing classy Gregory Peck walk around Frankston train station was surreal—that place is a fiend’s paradise nowadays. It does amaze me that not more is made of the whole nuclear issue. Know-nothings and tabloid spin artists think we are crazy for having such “alarmist” attitudes about the “safe” nuclear industry. These are the same types who would have accused medically-concerned people of being “alarmist” about Thalidomide in the 1960s.
By the way, anybody else remember this video game for the Atari 2600? At least it was a bit different from those stupid games kids play nowadays where you do nothing except blow crap to pieces…