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Context Film / K19TheWidowmaker

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1[[quoteright:300:]]²²->''"It's my favorite movie about Russian patriotism. In fact, it's the only one!"''²-->-- '''Caleb West'''²²''K19: The Widowmaker'' is a fact-based fictional movie released on July 19, 2002, about the first of many disasters that befell the Soviet submarine of the same name. It was directed by Creator/KathrynBigelow, of ''Film/PointBreak1991'' and ''Film/TheHurtLocker'' fame.²²In 1959, the Soviet Union launches its first nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, the K-19 – nicknamed "The Widowmaker" due to many deaths that occurred during manufacturing. The ship is led by Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Creator/HarrisonFord), aided by executive officer Mikhail Polenin (Creator/LiamNeeson). One day, the ship's reactor cooling system starts to fail, leading the sailors to work together in order to both save the crew's lives as well as prevent a nuclear accident that could trigger World War III.²²Submarine K-77, a diesel-powered missile submarine that somehow got bought by a Finnish entrepreneur, was used as the main set for this movie and later served as a museum in Providence, RI until it sank in a storm in 2007. It was scrapped in 2009.²²The K-19 itself served in the Soviet and then Russian Navy until 2002. In 2003, the boat was scrapped with the exception of the sail to be used as a memorial for the fallen sailors.²-------²!!Tropes:²* ArtisticLicenseAwards: In the epilogue, Vostrikov says that he nominated the men for Hero of the Soviet Union, but it was denied by the Central Committee because it was not wartime and merely an accident. In reality, the award of Hero of the Soviet Union was not a wartime decoration. It was awarded to Soviet and foreign citizens for "heroic feats in service to the Soviet state and society." In fact, multiple individuals who were involved in the cleanup of Chernobyl were awarded it.²* ArtisticLicenseHistory: K-19 ''wasn't'' the USSR's first nuclear sub – that distinction went to K-3, which was an attack sub, and while similarly "[[TheAllegedCar reliable]]" wasn't ''that'' prone to serious accidents. K-19 was the first nuclear ''missile'' sub.²* ArtisticLicenseNuclearPhysics: Nuclear reactors, by very nature, ''do not create a nuclear explosion'' if they melt down. Similarly, you can't "cook off" a nuclear warhead, just the explosive lenses. Although Radtchenko confesses he has no idea what would actually happen, he just speculates.²-->'''Radtchenko''': The temperature will keep rising 'til it reaches 1,000 degrees, and...²-->'''Vostrikov''': And? And WHAT?²-->'''Radtchenko''': No one knows.²** However, a nuclear reactor at 1,000 degrees coming in contact with cold water all of a sudden would form a very impressive dirty bomb and certainly wouldn't do the sub crew any good. Larry Bond's book ''Crash Dive'' recounts a very similar situation aboard the Soviet sub K-219.²*** And by "very impressive," we mean you'd be hard pressed to find a piece of the sub larger than your hand. Along with probably anything else within a few thousand feet of it. ²*** The closest thing to a nuclear reactor suddenly exploding with no warning ever caught on film was HMS ''Barham'' blowing herself to bits while sinking in 1941. The newsreels say it was an aft magazine explosion.²** It also should be pointed out that the reactor technician was quite green. He didn't know what he was talking about, because he was only barely qualified for the job, if that.²*** It should also be pointed out that back then, the number of American and Soviet ships, combined, with nuclear reactors could be counted on one hand. K-19 was the second Soviet ship powered by a nuclear reactor.²** Actually averted with that violet-blue color in the reactor room. That color? It's [[ Cherenkov radiation]]. It takes '''''thousands of rads''''' to generate a glow that bright, in a completely unshielded compartment. As said below, solid lead PoweredArmor wouldn't have protected the crew in that oven, a seething cauldron of high-energy gamma radation. Hell on Earth. It was little wonder some broke down crying when contemplating going into there - no amount of bullshit could convince them they weren't on suicide missions. '''''[[BodyHorror They were right]]'''''.²** Also averted with the way the contamination spreads through the ship's compartments. Exposed to such intensely radioactive steam in completely unsuitable chemical hazmat suits, the irradiated crewmembers would contaminate everything they touched or anything that touched them. Combined with radioactive steam leakage, the entire ship quickly would become hot, and that's exactly what happens.²* ArtisticLicenseShips: The crew used a diesel sub for filming, and it shows. Nuclear subs are ''much'' roomier, though the cramped interiors of a diesel boat just make a better stage for the [[RuleOfDrama drama]].²** A Soviet Project 651 submarine, like K-77 (the one used by the filmmakers), actually had a one-foot-wider beam than K-19 (the titular boat). They were also much quieter than early Soviet nuclear-powered submarines, had enormous batteries, and could stay submerged for about a month before surfacing up to 800 nautical miles away.²* BasedOnATrueStory: Some feel it's more of a VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory.²** Including the crewmen from the original accident. However, they ''did'' like the film overall, especially Harrison Ford's performance.²* TheCaptain: Two, actually. Polenin, who still has the Captain rank, was downranked to XO for the duration of the exercise, after upsetting Party members. Vostrikov takes his place as the Captain. The rest of the officers do not like this, as they feel Vostrikov only got command because he married a party member's daughter.²** That's somewhat more complex. Soviet/Russian rank system doesn't maintain a rigid correspondence between the rank and position, so, say a division (nominally a major general billet) can be and often is commanded by a colonel. So Polenin was demoted (from CO to XO), but not downranked, as he kept his Captain rank.²* ChromosomeCasting: Male example. Justified, given the setting.²* UsefulNotes/ColdWar²* CorruptCorporateExecutive[=/=]ObstructiveBureaucrat: More like Corrupt Politburo Party Members. The vast majority of the K-19's problems can be traced to shoddy construction, including the use of substandard parts on critical systems as cost-cutting measures, and yet the Party still wanted to have it launch on deadline and [[TemptingFate not fail]].²** Not to mention that Party Members believe the crew can deal with the radiation contamination just by barking even more orders and eating fresh fruit.²** The final insult comes when the men who died from radiation poisoning were nominated by Vostrikov for the Hero of the Soviet Union, but were denied on the basis of it not being wartime, and their deaths being the result of an accident.²* CrapsaccharineWorld: How the political officer's propaganda film portrays life in America, contrasting happy civilians with images of the KKK.²-->"In American propaganda, you will see how everyone has a car, nice clothes, a nice apartment. But you will never see the truth behind this lie. You will not see police dogs attacking strikers and demonstrators for civil rights. You will not see the beggars on the streets, the homeless, the negro-shantytowns in the south. You will not see the warmongers who threaten the world with nuclear holocaust."²* CruelAndUnusualDeath: Every single person on the reactor-repair crew. The film shows, in excruciating detail, the toll the radiation took on their bodies.²* DangerRoomColdOpen: The film opens with the crew preparing to launch the sub's nuclear missiles. Seconds before launch, a console shorts out, Polenin angrily announces, "The drill is over!" and the K-19 is revealed to still be in port.²* DistantFinale: There's an epilogue that takes place 28 years after the main body of the film, that shows the surviving crew members reuniting to finally give the seven [[HeroicSacrifice heroes]] a proper tribute.²* DoesThisRemindYouOfAnything: Radtchenko's Heroic Sacrifice is eerily similar to [[Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan Spock's]].²* DownerEnding: Due to the politics of the Soviet Union, the men that sacrificed their lives so that the rest of the crew could survive got little to no merit; several more crewmembers would have health complications for the rest of the lives, some even succumbing to cancer; and everyone got slapped with basically a gag-order that prevented them from talking about the events of the K-19 disaster.²* DrinkingOnDuty: Pretty much the first thing Vostrikov does upon assuming command is dismiss the chief engineer for being drunk on duty. Unfortunately, the only replacement the Navy can find in time for K-19's maiden voyage is EnsignNewbie Radtchenko.²* EnsignNewbie: Lt. Radtchenko, who is at his first naval posting out of the academy. And it shows.²* FailsafeFailure: A single leak in the reactor cooling system is enough to cause a near meltdown. Radtchenko mentions the backup systems were never installed (see NoOSHACompliance below.)²* AFatherToHisMen: Both Captains, but Polenin moreso than Vostrikov, even if the dynamics between both captains actually make Polenin feel more like the TeamMom of the crew.²* {{Fingore}}: While unloading a torpedo, a sailor's hand gets mangled when it's caught in the chain pulley.²* ForDoomTheBellTolls: The song "Reactor" from the soundtrack, which plays during the reactor repairs, opens with this, emphasizing what is going to happen to the crewmembers going into the reactor.²* {{Foreshadowing}}: The reactor officer constantly tapping on the pressure gauges.²* GoingCritical²* TheGreatPoliticsMessUp: Referenced. The film ends around the time that the Berlin Wall fell.²* TheGulag: Vostrikov's father was a Hero of the Soviet Revolution who died a prisoner in a Gulag for unspecified reasons.²* HazmatSuit: Unfortunately, the Quartermaster's office screwed up and gave them suits rated for ''chemical'' hazards instead of ''radiation'' hazards. Not that it would make much difference. No hazmat suit short of solid lead PoweredArmor could really protect from the radiation of the live nuclear reactor, and even that not all that well. Modern radiation hazmat suits mainly protect the wearer from radioactive ''material'' contamination, being just a slightly beefed-up chemical suit.²* HeroicSacrifice: The second half of the movie is pretty much a series of these.²* IronicEcho: At the beginning of the film, when a drill supervised by party members, Polenin gives his own name when asked who is the person resposible for such failure. When the reactor fails and Vostrikov demands who is responsible for the reactor failure, Polenin gives Vostrikov's own name and the new reactor officer he brought into the sub as the ones responsible. ²** A second instance occurs with the two missile launch sequences - the first a simulated launch of a live missile, the second an actual launch of a missile with an inert warhead. Both are tense moments for the crew, though for different reasons.²* JerkassHasAPoint: Vostrikov pushing people to the edge early in the film, while stressing his crew badly, eventually proves useful as it allows them to operate better once the reactor fails.²* LetThemDieHappy: The poor soldiers who sacrificed themselves to prevent K-19 from going critical.²* LibationForTheDead: Mixed with ToAbsentFriends: At the reunion in 1989, Polenin pours a glass of the vodka the others were toasting with on the memorial for the men who died from radiation poisoning from working on the reactor. There's also a glass of vodka and a piece of bread visibly set out on the memorial.²* {{Lzherusskie}}: Most of the cast.²* TheMutiny: Technically Barratry; the political officer attempts to countermand Vostrikov and give command to Polenin so they can [[ScrewThisImOuttaHere abandon ship]]. He refuses and has them locked up.²* NamesToRunAwayFromReallyFast: The Widowmaker. Although in RealLife, it didn't earn a nickname till after its nuclear accident, which by the way, was "Hiroshima."²* TheNeidermeyer: Vostrikov is portrayed like this at the beginning of the film; he gets better as the film progresses. He eventually comes to the realization that his duty to his men is more important than the duty to the Soviet Union when the party members make it clear they care more about looks/public opinion than the lives of the men under his command.²* NoOSHACompliance: The rushed and frequently shoddy construction of the K-19 is both a recurring theme and the root cause of the reactor accident; either higher quality welding in the cooling system or installation of the backup systems as designed would likely have prevented the disaster.²** Much is made of the crew being supplied with chemical exposure suits rather than radiation suits. Ultimately subverted, as even the proper equipment would have made little difference to crewmen working next to an out of control reactor.²* NotEvenBotheringWithTheAccent: To the amusement of some, Harrison Ford seems to alternate between this and bursts of {{Lzherusskie}}. It's more egregious with Liam Neeson, however.²** One reviewer remarked that they were the most American and Irish Russians ever, though at one point, Harrison Ford himself starts to sound more Irish than Russian, which he probably picked up from hanging out with Liam Neeson too much. Quite a few of the other sailors (those who weren't Russian-born) have [[OohMeAccentsSlipping wobbly]] accents, too.²** Joss Ackland, who played Defense Minister Marshal Zolentsov, does not even bother trying to sound "Russian" and sounds every bit as English as he is.²* PatrioticFervor: What drives some of the people that willingly went into the reactor.²* OhCrap: Polenin's reaction when he's told the sub was supplied with chemical suits, rather than radiation suits; as he puts it, "They might as well wear raincoats!" Not that actual radiation suits would have done them much good, though.²* OminousLatinChanting: The song ''Reactor'', played whenever the crew has to go into the reactor and fix the cooling system.²* OohMeAccentsSlipping: See {{Lzherusskie}} above.²* {{Retirony}}: The first repair crew had only an hour left in their shift when the accident happened.²* RibbonCuttingCeremony: It does not bode well when the bottle fails to break. A sailor even remarks they're ''cursed''. In Myth/NauticalFolklore, it is indeed a bad omen. (It's also usually considered bad luck to have two captains on one ship.)²* ScrewThisImOuttaHere: A sailor jumps off the submarine when the alarm sounds off again after one of the rigged coolant pipes fails.²* SomeoneHasToDie: And they do, in some truly nightmare-inducing ways.²* ShowingOffThePerilousPowerSource: Several shots of the reactor, and an ominous overpressure developing in one of its coolant loops, before it lets go.²* SubStory²* TheSoCalledCoward: Lt. Radtchenko, who suffered a total nervous breakdown and did not assist in the first effort to repair the cooling system for the reactor, does the reparations all by himself when the first efforts failed later in the voyage, spending more time inside the reactor than any other men.²** TimeToStepUpCommander²* ThisIsNotADrill²* TitleDrop: Polyenin notes that the crew is beginning to call the ship "the Widowmaker" when Vostrikov asks for a status report, and Radtchenko said that if they fail to fix the coolant leak, it would be ''Hiroshima'' all over again, a nod to the actual nickname the K-19 got in real life.²* TwoKeyedLock: Launching one of the K-19's missiles requires keys held by ''three'' different officers, as well as automated confirmation of missile launch authority from Moscow – technically requiring a fourth key, as the disk needed for the authorization procedure is locked in a safe.²* VehicleTitle: The Aforementioned K-19²* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: The film plays fast and loose with the facts, abandoning them whenever it allows to play up the RuleOfDrama. Just to name a few, it conflates the first and the second accidents with the titular sub while completely forgetting the ''third'', changes its nickname, and adds a lot of UsefulNotes/ColdWar clichés like the crew mooning Americans.²* VomitIndiscretionShot: When the repair crew leaves the reactor room, their first action is to puke. Vomiting is, by the way, one of the first symptoms of fatal radiation poisoning.²* WorldWarIII: Vostrikov tells the crew that because an American destroyer is trailing them too closely, and very close to a NATO base, he fears that if the sub goes critical and the destroyer gets caught up in it, then America/NATO might misunderstand and nuke Russia in retaliation.²** That would have been a very real fear for 1960s Americans and Soviets. The Aegis defense system, and ''Ticonderoga''-class cruiser, were specifically created so that that the US Navy wouldn't have to fear a Soviet airstrike.²----


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