Rating: PG-13, Time: 2hr 18min, Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Cast on IMDb
So why are you doing a review 15 years on?
Well I just saw this film and thought it was so fascinating that I wanted to share. It has really rock solid stress of not knowing what is going to happen to the submarine during its trip in 1961. It has a really solid historical look with all the tension of the Cold War during the JFK and Khrushchev years. This year in 1961, East Germany starts to build the Berlin Wall to prevent massive civilian emirgration. The Bay of PIgs failure in 1961 later leads to the Cuban Missile Crisis and almost WWIII. Other events include the Tsar Bomba nuclear test, the largest nuclear explosion ever dropped. US and USSR are in the space race with the Soviets ahead with Sputnik in 1959 and the first man in space in 1961. This is the height of the Cold War. So all sides are on edge.
Tsara Bomba explosion in USSR of 50 megatons
Do you think they capture the severity of the Cold War in the film?
Although there is a lot of authenticity to the scenes reenacted within the submarine, I feel maybe some more historical footage of TV or even radio could have established the feel of the era. I think in the tight time frame of the film there is limited time to reflect on this reality. However about 5 minutes of this type of footage could have really let people soak in the era. For example, in the fictional film Red Dawn, the audience is prepared for the reality of WWIII by scenes and statements leading to how tense the situation is. Of course, this was filmed in the Cold War vs. this film in the post-Cold War era.
So why was the boat called The Widowmaker?
Actually, in reality the crew called it "Hiroshima" from the near nuclear catastrophe of the ship. There was no nickname until then. The sailors did begin to think it may be cursed before sailing. There were numerous accidents like the six women died gluing the lining of the cistern from the fumes and 2 men died when a fire broke out. Additionally, they decided to break with tradition in christening the boat by switching a male vs a female to do the christening of the boat. Because the hull is rubberized, the bottle bounced off the hull and failed to break. Its interesting that they kept this superstition tradition despite being a nation forcing state atheism and closing all churches for practice. I think the director may have changed the nickname to be more ominous and less obvious to the plot of the film.
As Lenin famously said:
Religion is the opiate of the masses.
As Stalin said to Churchill:
God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil's on my side, he's a good Communist.
How well did the two captains play the part?
I think this is where they may have fictionalized the reality in the film. I like the element of the original captain demoted to the Executive Officer under the new captain. It leaves this underlying drama of two schools of thought on sub operation. Liam Neeson is the original captain Mikhail Polenin and Harrison Ford in the new hardass captain Alexei Vostrikov. Vostrikov gets the crew in shape by incessant drilling and taking the boat to maximum pressures of 300 meters. Later they emerge quickly to break the ice and test launch a new nuclear missile to demonstrate to the US that they have nuclear missile subs to check the power of the US and Nato. Later during the crisis this misfit of a captain serving another captain comes to a head. Of course, in the real world there would be severe tension in the midst of the Cold War and limited information flow to the sub to the USSR Navy. These guys are driving blind against an enemy actively tracking them and possibly trying to sink them if war breaks out.
How would you rate the director?
I have seen Zero Dark Thirty and that film is amazing. I have yet to see Hurt Locker, which won 6 oscars. I really think she has the eye of the emotion of military stories down. Another amazing film she shot, where she captures the era tension much better than in K-19 is the film Detroit. I think she may go down as this generation's best female director and easily in the top ten of best directors.
How did the real captain think of the accident?
It seems that what really determines the
choices a man makes in critical, life-threatening
situations is still his inner conviction, his sense of
responsibility for the events around him,
his personal conscience.
Commander of the Soviet Submarine K-19
Have you done any Cold War artwork?
Yes, my painting called "True Terrorism: the Original Shoe Bomber" is based on the same year 1961 as the submarine accident aboard K-19. While the USSR is busy catching up with the Americans in nuclear-powered submarine and nuclear missile technology, Khrushchev decided to test the largest nuclear bomb test in history. It was called Tsar Bomba and had a 50 megaton delivery. Right after its testing, the US and USSR moved on to ICBM development. Similar to the current Cold War nuke race that North Korea is living through under the Kim regime.
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