Australian Left Review

Abstract

The China Syndrome. Director: James Bridges; Producer: Michael Douglas.

China Syndrome arrives much ballyhooed, as an enthralling political thriller, overflowing with gripping action, desperate circumstances, and stunning performances. The publicity for the picture emphasizes its entertainment value, and in the United States, the stars — Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Rogers — carefully downplayed the film's highly political theme. ALR readers who heard Dale Bridenbaugh, the exGeneral Electric employee, on his lecture tour of Australia some time ago, will be familiar with the film’s focus: an accident at a nuclear reactor, the discovery of wholesale breaches of the safety regulation procedures, and a ruthless attempt at cover-up by the nuclear energy company. During the film’s initial release in America, the nuclear energy industry campaigned vigorously against it — until the events at the Three Mile Island reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, gave it some soncrete, rather than fictional, bad publicity to deal with. So as China Syndrome comes to us, it has not only a prophetic quality, but also a militant quality, as a film under siege from Big Business, under attack by corporate interests trying to quash the film’s “truth”. Given this context, it is not surprising that the China Syndrome has been hailed by anti-uranium, and anti-nuclear energy groups, environmentalists, and those with a comprehensive critique of monopoly capitalism — and the picture has been viewed as a weapon in the struggle against the Forces of Darkness.

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