It has been more than 33 years since Chernobyl, the worst man-made disaster in the history of humankind, took place near the city of Pripyat in northern Ukraine. But HBO’s recently-released mini series of the same name could not be more timely. That’s because the series, which dramatizes the events following the explosion of Reactor 4 in the dead of night on April 26th 1986, is not really about a nuclear disaster. It is about the end of truth, and in our current political context, what could be more timely than that?
The main character Valery Legosov, a nuclear scientist reluctantly sucked into the vortex of the Chernobyl clean-up, tells us as much in the opening monologue.
“What is the cost of lies?” he asks. “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. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories.”
Time and time again in the Chernobyl saga, it is the stories that go forward, not the reality. Radiation readings are ridiculously under reported. Damage to the reactor, including the breach of the core, is denied despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Communist party brass flatly states that a nuclear disaster of Chernobyl’s magnitude could not possibly have occurred in the Soviet Union because it doesn’t jibe with its glorified view of itself.
If that kind of denial sounds familiar, it should. It is modern-day Trump World where reality has nothing to do with the facts. It’s all about the stories that prop up the fantasy. Anything to the contrary is dismissed as fake news and ignored at our peril.
The world that Chernobyl shows us is not a pretty one. Despite the unmistakable selflessness and sacrifice of those who work to contain the disaster, it is a gritty, dirty world where everything is in decline: the buildings seem to crumble before our eyes, the tools and equipment are poorly designed, almost useless, and worst of all, the people are like soulless automatons sleep-walking through the most impactful moments of their lives.
We are left with the chilling prospect that if we fail to right this leaky ship soon, it is a world to which we might well be headed.