Movies We Like
This 1979 thriller is a frightening look into the threat of nuclear fallout, a concept that appears to have been somewhat marginalized in the current state of popular consciousness. Once in awhile I find that it is a swell idea to reinforce the state of one's own nuclear paranoia with an evening movie devoted to the subject. The China Syndrome is the perfect film for such an occasion.
Jane Fonda stars as Kimberly Wells, an ambitious "soft news" reporter who finds herself in the right place at the wrong time when an unexplained mishap occurs at a Southern Californian Nuclear Power plant while reporting on a series about energy production. It is here that her cameraman Richard Adams, who is played by Michael Douglas, secretly films the incident from an observation room as it takes place behind soundproof glass in the control room down below. As Wells and Adams embark on an investigation as to what actually happened in that control room and attempt to air their story they find themselves ensnared in a web of deception and resistance.
Jack Lemmon gives an exceptional performance as Jack Godell, a supervisor who is in charge of the plant during the accident. Jack slowly descends into a prison of his own morality as he is pinned between the wishes of his bosses and the cost of hiding the truth. The result builds into a climax of fine acting and nail-bitting suspense.
Overall, the movie comes off as quite stylish, notably containing no score, aside from the occasional late '70s session produced, and forgivable, muzak drifting out of the odd car here and there.. The deafening roar of the power plant is ever present, punctuating key scenes with intensity, serving to enhance the atmosphere of sterile realism created by this film.
The Three Mile Island incident occurred just days after the release of this movie, and I'm sure that during that time period the discourse created with The China Syndrome was like a kick in the eye. Indeed, this film was nominated for several Academy Awards in its day, and it's a testament to the potency of this film and the chemistry of its cast that it can still successfully re-conjure the seemingly forgotten demon of nuclear fallout with enough believability to perhaps keep you awake at night, wondering whether or not it truly is a sane idea for human beings to continue toying with the atom.
The China Syndrome was nominated for four Oscars: Best Actor (Jack Lemon), Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Best Art Direction, and Best Original Screenplay.