The China Syndrome (1979)


The China Syndrome, a horrifying take on nuclear meltdown and its repercussions, is an astoundingly gripping thriller that not only draws you into knowing the broader sense of the destruction but also educates you with the inside workings of a nuclear power plant and its operators who routinely shoulder an astronomical responsibility towards the safety of inhabitants.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda), a TV reporter on the rise, along with her freelance cameraman, Richard (Michael Douglas), go to a nuclear power plant for a cover story where they stealthily record the agitation in the control room while the operators are trying to avert an accident, possibly something that hints a major nuclear meltdown. The film is pacy in its own right, defining the characters, setting the atmosphere, educating of nuclear energy, and thickening the plot with that nerve-racking scene in the control room. The tension just keeps escalating there on leading to a politically alarming yet an emotionally moving finale.

Jack Lemmon, playing Jack Godell, the control room supervisor, is authentically brilliant during those critical moments and brings shudders through the fear in his eyes. He loves characters that are often confused, frenzied, and yet concerned be it in a comedy or in a tense drama and performs them with utmost perfection.

Some movies thrill you with the horror in the imaginary world they create. The thrill stays only as long as that imaginary world appeals to you. But only a few movies represent the perpetual horror in the real world naturally hitting your core with irrevocable fear. The China Syndrome is an important film not just for the sensitive plot and great performances but for its global relevance and its exposé on political greed and dreadful conspiracies hovering invisibly over the endangered.

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