Sneaking around

Chernobyl Diaries is a 2012 film about a group of tourists visiting Kiev who decide to take an ‘extreme tourism’ side trip to Prypyat, Ukraine, the city housing the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Reactor 4 was the site of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Following the disaster the reactor has been sealed in a lead and cement sarcophagus and the power plant is now within a large restricted area known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Interestingly, the idea of touring the site of the Chernobyl disaster is not invented for this film. A number of agencies take tourists to the site. As for safety – don’t worry, you’re covered. Ukranian law requires the purchase of a one day medical insurance policy for ~10 USD. The tour itself costs another 150 USD for a regular tour, more for smaller, private visits. Book yours here.

No word on the tourism websites about mutant attacks or packs of wild dogs.


As always, I want to ask, ‘what’s the question this film asks – or – what theme is explored by this film?

A couple possibilities might be:

  1. Are we killing ourselves with technology?
  2. Is nuclear power safe?
  3. What is the nature of humanity?
  4. Are we just plain stupid? Why would we put ourselves in this position?
  5. Are we our brother’s keeper?

Let’s see whether this film addresses any of these points cogently…

It does ask #5 quite clearly. So clearly, that it really is the brother of a character who asks this of himself. His answer is, ‘yes.’ He does take responsibility for his brother to the extent that he places himself and the rest of the party in jeopardy to try to track down and save him.

I think the film also really wants to answer #3. It does this in just the same way that every zombie film does. It strips away all the social behavior from the people of  Prypyat and leaves them with nothing but their instinct to survive. And of course this instinct makes them do all but trudge after the tourists calling, ‘BRAINZ!!’

#1 and #2 are implicitly answered, ‘Yes, we are killing ourselves.’ And ‘no, nuclear power is not safe.’ These are your standard horror story answers. Of course we’re killing ourselves, otherwise there would be no horror story to tell. We are supposed to believe that we’re doing this because of our crass materialism and because the government is always screwing us by hiding the truth about everything.

Seriously? Nuclear power, even with its problems is still probably less impactful on our environment than digging, drilling, refining and combusting all the fossil fuels we do without a second thought. Just considering the direct human costs to workers, etc. at nuclear power plants vs other forms of power production, nuclear power is remarkably safe.


The Paul Scherrer Institute collected data on every accident causing five or more prompt deaths in the energy industry between 1969 and 2000. In that time period there were 1870 such severe accidents around the world resulting in 81,258 deaths. The only severe accident at a nuclear power plant – Chernobyl – killed 31 plant and emergency workers.

Data from the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development)


I know what you’re thinking, ‘But at least fossil fuels don’t cause whole towns to be deserted.’ Yet it has. Silent Hill is a game based upon the town of Centralia, PA, which was deserted  fifty years ago following the ignition of a coal fire that has encased the entire town in a veil of smoke.


Up in Smoke

Back to the film. #4 If we are the characters in these movies, then we are that stupid. They make poor decisions at almost every turn. Always investigating further into the tunnels beneath the city. Always calling out when they should shut their mouths. Always shining lights when they should be hiding.

So, what’s left? Chernobyl Diaries would be a Greek tragedy based on the numbers of survivors, but in order to be a tragedy, we need these people to have died for something. What did they die for? Stupidity? A quick trip behind the wall of security?

I don’t really remember the names of any of the characters despite finishing it up only fifteen minutes ago. Perhaps if I did, then I could call it a tragedy.


imdb gave this  5/10  ; rotten tomatoes gave it 20%

I think the disparity between the two ratings here says a lot about who uses each of these sites. imdb is being awefully generous with a 5. But I felt like the novelty of the set, in a city destroyed by humanity’s own folly deserves a better rating than 20%. I’d call it a 4/10.

7 down 93 to go

(and ps – radiation doesn’t turn people into monsters)




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