[REVIEW] Chernobyl

What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.

Valery Legasov

These are the very opening lines of the HBO mini-series. Without needing to guess further, I knew that this miniseries is going to be worth watching. The most talked-about HBO miniseries was something I never expected. I was dreading another documentary feeding me with the facts and figures of this 1986 nuclear disaster – I can do that on YouTube myself and in fact, here are some supplementary videos to watch if you are interested in the science and mechanisms behind the RMBK-type nuclear reactor.

A pretty quick and simple explanation behind the disaster

So what makes this show great is its depiction of the social causes and social cost of the whole affairs. (And yes, I realised Jared Harris plays the lead here and I was impressed by his performance as Lane Pryce in Mad Men and so, I decided to give this show a shot.)

I would not comment on the historical accuracy nor the scientific details explained by the nuclear physicists purely because my knowledge of physics and chemistry is stuck at ‘O’L levels standards.

Anyways, the series – as its name already suggests – is about the 1986 tragic nuclear disaster specifically how it started and the subsequent legal trials. We see the events through the eyes of many stakeholders – the soldiers, the family, the science community, the plant workers and firefighters and of course, the politicians – and the conflicts within them. Should Lyudmilla have obeyed the nurse and distance herself from her husband, Vasily Ignatenko who was one of the heroic first responders of the explosion? What about Pavel? He was young and drafted to kill animals – an experience which might tramatise him for life. The truth is none of them deserves and none of them should suffer these consequences but they did and so did their children.

The men in power all wanted to protect the Soviet pride, their offices in Moscow and local government and their images. To bow down and seek help from the States would be seen as a humiliating defeat to Communist Soviets and Gorbachev – who just assumed office in 1985 – would not want that. The government knew about the design flaw but they did not want the truth and made up their own version of lies.

I was expecting the Chernobyl to be dry and boring. I am afraid this miniseries would just be another documentary recount of this tragic nuclear events but turns out, the five-episodes historical drama is indeed worth watching. It looks at the aftermath not from a scientific point of view, but instead the accumulation of the failures of humans – human errors, human ego and human greed. Because of these, generations of people have to suffer the horrific consequences of the nuclear radiation lurking in the air. It is the kind of show that really makes you wonder what is scarier – knowing the truth or sugarcoating the lies.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

[REVIEW] The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I have never read this book before and I know nothing about this film apart from the fact that it is set during World War II. Ok I lied, Rupert Friend (who played Peter Quinn in political thriller series Homeland) and David Thewlis acted in this show and they form part of the reason why I watch this movie.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a simple movie to understand. There is nothing too complicated and nothing fanciful going on but it just has this ability to move you emotionally. At the beginning, the young 8 year-old Bruno and his family are reallocated to the “countryside”, which turns out to be Poland, so that his dad, a Nazi high-ranking officer can carry out his ‘job’ more smoothly. That ‘job’ as we later know it is the burning of the Jews.

It was not the hostility towards the Jews nor the foredoomed concentration camps that left me stupefied; it was the fact that the Nazi propaganda was so capable of influencing young minds. Bruno knows what a Jew is only by the teachings of the Nazis. His first encounter with a Jew is with the family servant, Pavel, who bandages his wounds after the boy falls off his swing. He’s both ignorant (to the situation around him) and innocent here as he assumes Pavel is just another grownup who cannot decide what he wants to do with his life. I mean this boy naively accepted the idea that the concentration camps are actually farms and the prisoner uniforms pyjamas.

Bruno’s and Shmuel’s first interaction is a rather awkward one. The German boy is standing on his feet as he speaks to Shmuel who sits by himself near the electric fence. Bruno scoffs at his name and complains on how the boy on the other side gets to play the number game with his friends all day. Bruno thinks the prisoner number is a game and he even has a ball game with Shmuel over the electric fence. Though they are the same age, it is clear that Shmuel has a better common sense here. But Bruno is an innocent boy too. When Shmuel reveals his race to Bruno, Bruno does not shun away from him and continues playing with him the next few days. The common belief that Jews are evil and odd is shared among his family but Bruno is unable to understand this.

But Bruno is no saint too. Their friendship is momentarily broken when Bruno denies handling Shmuel some pastries reserved for the family or guests, provoking an antisemitism and violent Lietutenant Kotler who punches the boy in the striped pyjamas. Bruno is guilty of this and very tragically, his chance of redeeming this friendship would later cost the both of them their lives when they are brought in to the gas chamber. I was awaiting a happy or at least one where Bruno, Gretel and his mother would depart from Poland to somewhere safer and I was honestly not prepared for this horrific twist to the story.

I am not a history expert so I will refrain from making any comments on the portrayal of the concentration camps but this movie does shed the grave impact of childhood education and childhood innocence. As like the film has quoted,

 Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.

John Betjeman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.