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Nuclear power the cinematic perception

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(Photo: Jordan News)
Movies have the power to tackle important issues, chronicle events, and deal with variables that have affected humanity. These days, as events hint to the threat of nuclear weapons, some films that have spoken about nuclear war must be conjured up.اضافة اعلان



The US, the first country to have mastered nuclear energy, first with the atomic bomb in 1945, and then with the first reactor in operation in 1951, was also one of the first to bring the atom to the screen, aided by the power of the Hollywood industry. Since then, the nuclear theme has thriven, often with great sensationalism.

At the beginning of nuclear power, love and dread
Disney produced a first film devoted to nuclear power, “Our Friend the Atom”, in 1957 as part of a communication campaign that aimed to project the image of perfectly controlled security to American schoolchildren.

In France, a few years before the commissioning of the first nuclear reactor in 1967, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” was an international success. It was called a masterpiece when it was released in 1959, and is now considered a work that has changed the history of cinema. The Franco-Japanese film directed by Alain Resnais depicts a romantic encounter evoking the war and the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, like a poem of love and death calling for reconciliation.



“Hiroshima” will have inspired a film surely better known today, “Godzilla”, directed by Ishiro Honda in 1954.

Godzilla would be the direct consequence of the exposure of a dinosaur hidden at the bottom of the ocean to an atomic bomb dropped during a nuclear test.

The cinematographic work revolutionized the Japanese kaiju genre, featuring giant monsters, in a Japan traumatized by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Hiroshima” will also have inspired the historical film “Fat Man and Little Boy”, released in 1989, which retraces the history of the scientific team in charge of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos military base.

The Cold War and its apocalyptic worlds

A few years later, the Cold War, with intense tensions between the American and Soviet blocs, inspired many films. One can count here those of espionage, including “Goldfinger”, by Guy Hamilton, the third instalment in the James Bond series, in 1964, where agent 007 has defusing a nuclear bomb before its detonation as a mission. Or “Doctor Strangelove”, by Stanley Kubrick, released in 1964, which humorously depicts one of the ways in which humanity can face a global nuclear apocalypse.



Many films have imagined the world as it would be after a nuclear apocalypse. “The Planet of the Apes”, in 1968, was one of the first to conceive of such a universe, where apes have become a dominant species hunting the few remaining humans.

“Terminator”, directed by James Cameron, and released in 1984, also suggests a world where man has lost his place, but this time is faced with machines run by artificial intelligence.

“La Jetée”, by Chris Marker, a French film from 1962, should also be mentioned, since it describes the world after World War III in a series of static shots of singular poetry. Finally, “Mad Max”, released in 1985 and directed by George Miller, where human communities have adapted by creating tribes, each fighting for survival.



Civil nuclear power and its disasters
Many films also focus on the issue of nuclear power plants. One in particular may attract attention because of its coincidence with the American accident at Three Mile Island.

James Bridge’s “The China Syndrome”, released 12 days before the 1979 accident, depicts a team of journalists witnessing a nuclear incident near Los Angeles, during which molten material seeps into the ground toward the core of the Earth and China. The term “China Syndrome” comes from a controversial theory — the most serious for core meltdown — that molten material could cross the Earth from North America and reach China.

Catastrophism reigns supreme
The disasters of Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and Fukushima in 2011 are the basis of the scenarios of some works. Chernobyl, in particular has been the subject of many documentaries. Fictions, on the other hand, are rarer. One can evoke “The Outraged Earth”, by Michale Boganim, released in 2012, where the viewer discovers the neighboring city, Pripyat, in a post-apocalyptic setting. The “Chernobyl Diaries”, by Bradley Parker, a film released the same year, takes on the subject of nuclear tourism to set up a horror setting on the site of the disaster. First broadcast on HBO and Sky television channels in May 2019, the series Chernobyl seeks to trace the human events that led to the explosion of the reactor.



In 1990, “Le Mont Fuji en Rouge”, one of the short films that make up the work “Rêves” by Akira Kurosawa, announces in advance similarities with the accident that will take place in Fukushima 20 years later. The short film depicts the eruption of a volcano bringing with it the explosion of nuclear power plants. Purple lava, loaded with radioactive elements, forces the few survivors of the island to flee.
Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and later the accidents at power stations, filmmakers have never stopped imagining and putting into images the cataclysms that this energy, as powerful and mysterious for ordinary mortals as it may be, could cause.
In “The Land of Hope”, released in 2012, Sono Sion will be inspired by Fukushima to stage an accident affecting the imaginary power plant of Nagashima (contraction of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima), where the camera turns this time to the victims of the accident, the silence of the authorities, and the “gregarious” behavior of the Japanese who try to forget and return to a normal life as quickly as possible.

Finally, among the films focusing on nuclear power plants, “Grand Central”, by Rebecca Zlotowski, holds a special place, since it talks about the life of a worker in the nuclear industry and, for the first time on screen, gets an insider’s view.



The plant is presented there as a cathedral, and the invisible enemy that is radiation is sacred there. Gary, the protagonist, is slowly contaminated, both by love and radiation. Although highlighting the organization of the nuclear sector, the film foreshadows in its own way, a potential catastrophe.

A cultural phobia
As with many of the works cited, “Grand Central” illustrates the feeling of vulnerability felt by populations due to the loss of confidence in technology, the globalization of risks, and the excessive media coverage of technological accidents. Nuclear energy may thus give way to a cultural phobia in which cinema plays an important role.



Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and later the accidents at power stations, filmmakers have never stopped imagining and putting into images the cataclysms that this energy, as powerful and mysterious for ordinary mortals as it may be, could cause. But very often the imagination exceeds the reality, and although they are fictitious, the images shape the vision of the public, and have the potential to elicit irrational fear.

When watching these films, one should use one’s reason and think with discernment about the questions raised by them.



In cinematographic art, the nuclear is not the only one to undergo this treatment. On a smaller scale, the shark has also received a very bad reputation, in particular because of the film “Jaws”, a great success released by Steven Spielberg in 1975.

It took the combined efforts of many researchers and lovers of nature to provide insight into the true nature of sharks, understand their behavior and adapt to them. The representation of the carnivorous and bloodthirsty shark could give way to the image of a shark neutral toward man, sometimes even docile and curious, when it is not fearful. Above all, its presence is very useful for the balance of biodiversity.

Could nuclear power also be the ugly little shark of energy?


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