Table of contents:
- 1. The reaction of people is worse than special effects
- 2. Reality becomes more convincing due to fiction
- 3. Invisible radiation can be shown
- 4. Ambient can subtly create mood
- 5. Contrasts make you believe what is happening on the screen
- 6. Details create a sense of presence
2023 Author: Malcolm Clapton | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-22 06:26
"Chernobyl" topped the IMDb rating not only because of the plot.
1. The reaction of people is worse than special effects
It's easy enough to turn a series about a major accident into a banal blockbuster, oversaturated with explosions, death and blood. Or forget about the very essence, having gone into the plot component. Often, such projects, including the Russian TV series "Chernobyl" from NTV, talk about some kind of investigation or are inclined towards effects just for the sake of entertainment.
But here the situation is different. Almost the entire plot of "Chernobyl" is based not on the disaster itself, but on its perception by various people: from party workers and scientists to soldiers and housewives.
Even the first scenes hint at this. It all begins two years after the accident, when Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) writes a kind of confession, immediately deducing the moral of the story, and only then show the main events.
At first it seems that Legasov is the only protagonist saving the country from an even greater disaster. But then the series splits into several lines - so it will be in all other episodes.
Even the scene of the explosion implies that the action will not focus only on the nuclear power plant itself - an accident occurs somewhere in the distance outside the window of the apartment of firefighter Vasily and his wife Lyudmila.
Several important heroes from different strata of society appear, through whose perception events are shown. And in each episode, new characters are added: an employee of the Institute of Nuclear Energy, a brigade of miners, soldiers, party workers - each of them helps to tell the story from a new angle.
While some are deciding how to save the country from an even greater catastrophe, others are simply experiencing the death of loved ones, do not want to leave their homes, or perform tasks without even knowing the goal. From all these stories, a complete picture of events is formed.
2. Reality becomes more convincing due to fiction
The creators of "Chernobyl" obviously studied a lot of documents, interviews and eyewitness memories. And a significant part of the plot is built on the real stories of the participants in the events. But more emotional artistic moments were added to the facts in order to better reveal the human qualities of each hero.
Even when it comes to party workers and scientists, the atmosphere is created not so much by their actions as by emotions and human manifestations. In this regard, the top management, of course, is not revealed: Gorbachev and many ministers turned out to be almost caricature. But the shaking hands of Legasov and the tired eyes of Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard) look absolutely real.
The line of these two characters traces the classic story of partners who do not love each other. Only in a very realistic setting. At first, Legasov seems to be a hero, and Shcherbina is a typical party careerist. But from episode to episode, they find a common language and get closer. And the joke about Legasov's first smile for a long time (and the entire series) is impossible not to appreciate: Harris plays perfectly. It is this person who will send many people to certain death.
The story of Lyudmila Ignatenko (Jesse Buckley) comes from the pages of the documentary book "Chernobyl Prayer" by Svetlana Aleksievich. And judging by the interview "The last 17 days that my husband lived after the accident, I was next to him, not suspecting that the exposure to 1,600 roentgens would hit both me and our unborn child …" by Lyudmila herself, the authors told everything as it was …
Of course, along with real characters, fictional characters also appear in the series. But they also appear here for a reason. Invented by the authors, Ulyana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) plays an important role as a liaison in attempts to understand the causes of the accident.
In reality, everything she learned was collected from various documents. But in a fictional series, simply reading the memories of different people would not be very smart. Therefore, she is a witness to all events and communicates with real heroes.
3. Invisible radiation can be shown
The terrible consequences of radiation are shown on the example of ordinary people. The firefighter takes a piece of graphite, and a little later it is taken away by an ambulance. The station worker holds the door with his hip, and his clothes are immediately soaked in blood.
But most of the people were affected by radiation not so obviously and not immediately. And therefore, the scenes become neater further on. Instead of overwhelming the picture with dying people and showing crowds of firefighters in the hospital, the focus is on relatives who want to see the victims. And then on a long stage with the clothes of the infected: banal actions, rhythmic knocking and only a second focus on the nurse's burn.
The line of Lyudmila, who comes to her husband at the hospital, allows you to see the whole horror of radiation sickness. But here it is even difficult to say which looks worse: the realistic make-up of peeling skin or the funeral scene when the coffins are poured with concrete.
In other cases, the authors do not even try to incline towards excessive cruelty, but rather talk about the very doom and senselessness of attempts to escape. Legasov in a casual tone explains to Shcherbina that they have a couple of years left to live. The chief of miners refuses respirators - it certainly won't save. One of the liquidators tears his boots in the zone of strong irradiation, and they simply say to him: "Everything is with you."
4. Ambient can subtly create mood
An important component of any major film or television project is the sound background. But the traditional soundtrack for Chernobyl simply wouldn't fit. Any standard composition, even a very dark one, would rather destroy the integrity of such a story than help it.
The traditional way to talk about radiation is the crackling of Geiger counters. But this technique has long been worn out and, moreover, will look artificial in scenes with ordinary residents of the city. It is used only in a couple of the most intense scenes, where it is due to the plot itself. Therefore, a finely detailed background is added to the picture.
It is dark ambient mixed with noise and real sounds: rumbling or howling of sirens. The closer the character is to the source of radiation, the louder the sound becomes, gradually drowning out everything else.
Sound acts in much the same way as radiation itself: it is invisible, but creates an atmosphere of danger, which, coupled with even minimal knowledge about radiation, turns very simple moments into tragedy. And to understand this state even more, the creators of "Chernobyl" deliberately slow down.
The scenes with washing the car after visiting the contaminated area, evacuating people and watering the streets last a long time. This is not a blockbuster where plot twists fall one after another. It is a slow and stringy state. And time seems to freeze at such moments, accompanied by a slow, non-rhythmic sound.
5. Contrasts make you believe what is happening on the screen
If you show only horror, pain and blood on the screen, the viewer will quickly get used to it and stop taking the story seriously: everyone understands that this is just makeup and special effects. Therefore, "Chernobyl" does not skimp on contrasts, creating a contradictory mood.
Very beautiful and aesthetic filming here looks no less scary than the subsequent death scenes. People are standing and watching the fire, children are having fun. But one has only to look at the characters, hear the sound, see the radioactive ash. And it becomes clear that they are all doomed.
In the series, the global is constantly adjacent to the private. And it is this approach that allows you to feel the full horror of the disaster. Any big event has an analogy in the form of the fate of an ordinary person. This is not to say that this technique is new: it is often used in disaster stories. But here he works one hundred percent.
Long aerial shots switch to a handheld camera following the nurses. An endless line of buses is watched from the side of the road by a young couple. After discussing the possibility of contaminating all the water, a close-up of an ordinary tap in a hospital is shown: it is from it that the poison will flow.
The difficulties of evacuation are explained by the example of an old woman who refuses to leave. She is forced by force and threats, and she will hate her saviors.
These are private human stories within the framework of a global tragedy. Just like the simplest reflection of the terrible burns on the body of a firefighter: he flinches in pain when he hugs his wife.
The apotheosis of this approach can be called a storyline about the elimination of animals. For the common good, the military shoot innocent dogs and cats that have been exposed to radiation. It is not hard to guess that the people themselves in Chernobyl ended up in the role of exactly the same animals.
This is also hinted at by the scene from the previous episode, where the miners slap on the shoulder and face of the official who sent them to the contamination zone. He arrived in a clean suit, but now he himself is dirty.
Here you can feel the creative approach of the director, screenwriter and cameraman. They create precisely a work of art, filled with a kind of aesthetics, without falling into documentary and excessive realism. But this is precisely why the series has such a strong effect on the viewer, far from the times and places of action of "Chernobyl".
6. Details create a sense of presence
You can criticize the project as much as you like for inaccuracies in reflecting real events and too flat Soviet leaders. But when it comes to simple life and details, the Chernobyl series is striking in its liveliness.
The wallpaper, the trash can, the peeling wooden frames in the hospital - it all seems to have come from the present 1986. Soldiers and policemen are wearing exactly that uniform. And on old Soviet cars, numbers with the code KX - Kiev region.
This very clearly reflects the approach to the project, because even in Russia and Ukraine, not everyone will pay attention to such trifles. But the authors of the series clearly wanted to recreate the setting itself. And therefore, at the very beginning, real negotiations of dispatchers are inserted, the announcement of the evacuation sounds in Russian, and in the background they read the poems of Konstantin Simonov, then they perform the song "Black Raven".
The story of the three divers is conveyed exactly from the memories, and some moments even coincide with the real footage of the chronicles. The tense scene looks as vivid as possible: the inability to talk, the crackling of the meter, the meager light of flashlights. This makes you feel not only the physical, but also the moral stress on the heroes.
The subtlety of the approach is noticeable even in the moment with the liquidators, who were throwing graphite from the roof. They are allowed to be in the danger zone for a minute and a half - and this is exactly how long the scene lasts. At the same time, there is not a single editing gluing in it, which allows the viewer to seem to get into the most dangerous place on earth.
And even the extras in "Chernobyl" do not at all resemble a typical Hollywood crowd of interns. Everything here is very believable with clothes and hair. Not 100%, of course, but no one is filming more precisely now.
If you are a completely cynical skeptic or watch the series "Chernobyl" only in order to find inconsistencies, there is something to complain about. Some historical facts have been changed, there are plastic windows in a couple of scenes, and people drink vodka differently from reality.
But the project succeeded in the main thing - to show the tragedy through the eyes of ordinary people. The authors put a lot of effort into creating a lively, not cinematic atmosphere of fear, to convey to the viewer all the horror of the event. In simple words - just as Legasov explains to the minister the principle of operation of a nuclear power plant. Understandable associations and artistic techniques that turn "Chernobyl" into such a terrible, but very important project for everyone.