The theme of lies — the destruction of truth by a regime devoted to self-preservation — pervades “Chernobyl” in a way that is wildly relevant to America in the age of birtherism, Sarah Sanders, and “very fine people” who are neo-Nazis. The corollary is unmistakable. At one point, an engineer who is partly culpable for the nuclear accident tells an investigator that her search for honesty, and his desire to avoid a firing squad, are futile. “You think the right question will get you the truth?” he says. “There is no truth. Ask the bosses whatever you want. You will get the lie, and I will get the bullet.”
“Chernobyl” can be considered the best political film of our times because it illuminates a core problem of the Trump era: the nonstop jackhammer of falsehoods that are drowning out what’s true. The risk is that Americans who are inundated with moral rubbish from the White House and Fox News may lose the will to care about the difference between right and wrong, echoing what happened in the Soviet Union. When everything becomes gray and sluggish, there is no battle worth fighting.
The craft behind “Chernobyl” is transporting — the dialogue, the visuals, the acting, the music. It excels as a horror movie, action film, political thriller, documentary, and fable. You hardly notice the show’s gutting message up to the finale, which is like a dagger you don’t sense until it pierces your heart and you gasp. But the creator and writer of the show, Craig Mazin, has been, like his central character, explicit in saying what it means. “We are now living in a global war on the truth,” Mazin told the Los Angeles Times. “We look at this president who lies, not little ones but outstandingly absurd lies. The truth isn’t even in the conversation. It’s just forgotten or obscured to the point where we can’t see it. That’s what Chernobyl is about.”