Monday, February 25, 2013

Full Body Burdens and the New Nuclear Age

Yesterday we watched Silkwood, which I hadn't seen again since I first saw it in the mid-80's.  I remember feeling scared by the scrubbings and the nuclear contamination which necessitated the scrubbings.  I didn't remember that the depiction of the main character, Karen Silkwood, was as complex as it seemed to me yesterday.

I remember seeing Karen Silkwood as a spunky, brave heroine, and I still sort of see her that way.  But I also see her as less brave, and more a woman who backs into her heroic acts or does them almost accidentally.

And let me be frank here, I also see her as somewhat irresponsible and careless.  She's the kind of worker that no management type would want to have.  She's sloppy, and she's presented early on as trying to get out of work, and she's a whiner.  She takes drugs at work, and it's been a long time since I've seen so many people smoking so much through the course of a day.  How life has changed in the past few decades!

I feel guilty for even thinking these things.  By the time I saw Silkwood in the mid-80's, the sanctification of Karen Silkwood was well underway.  She was seen as a hero of the anti-nuclear movement and the anti-corporation movement, such as it existed.

But as I watched the movie, I felt myself wondering if the corporate types really had her killed.  She took astonishing risks with her personal safety, and it's no wonder she got contaminated.  One of the first scenes in the movie shows her popping a gum bubble all over her face, and her co-worker, who's been handling plutonium, takes the gum off her face and puts his fingers in her mouth.

You may protest, well what about that accident?  She had an amazing amount of Quaaludes in her system.  Did she ingest them?  Based on her behavior in the film, it's likely that she did, not that a shadowy type poisoned her drink.  It's quite believable that she fell asleep at the wheel.

And the movie made me doubt that she really planned to get the documents that would make her a true whistleblower--it's an angle I didn't see when I first saw it.

I did a bit of Internet searching this morning, and I came across this fascinating article, for those of you who are interested in nuclear contamination of the human body.

I wanted to see this movie again since last summer, when I read Full Body Burden and Plume in the same week (see this post for more).  I'm surprised at how well the movie holds up, how timeless it seems.  It also seems like an important cautionary tale, in this current age of ours, when we see people thinking about nuclear power as a possibility again.

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