There’s a certain corrosive brand of unchecked, Western-centric egotism that’s required for a documentary like the condescending Nuclear to ever see the light of day, let alone premiere at the Venice International Film Festival and receive anything resembling a positive reception. Little is left to the imagination in terms of anything outside of a central purpose: providing information, usually delivered with a self-congratulatory tone, and always with a dash of patronizing smugness. There’s so much it assumes viewers don’t know about basic world history (and, as the title suggests, about nuclear power as well) and would never know unless they were informed about it here. Basically, it’s the type of inoffensive educational video you’d throw on while substituting for a third-grade science class, except it goes on a bit longer than the allocated 45-minute period would allow. Lesson plans for two consecutive days? That’s about the peak of Nuclear’s merits and its only noteworthy accomplishment.
It should be of little surprise, then, to see Oliver Stone’s name attached as the film’s director and narrator — though, to claim he “directed” this PowerPoint of a film is a bit of a stretch; “assembled” is more accurate — as the now 75-year-old continues to pompously assume that he still knows better and more than all, and has known every particular truth far longer than you have. However, Stone’s abrasive, almost sledgehammer-like formal approach to his material has seemingly dulled over the past decade; even when his arguments were substantially shaky, or deeply homophobic, they were at least articulated with a degree of urgency and hoopla that was engaging if not edifying. But the man’s on clear auto-pilot these days, blankly shuttling off from one locale to the next, looking as out of touch as ever when interviewing people half his age — including, I shit you not, a “nuclear power influencer” who makes pro-nuclear power TikToks — and proudly embracing neoliberalism. Not only does the documentary — and, by proxy, Stone — peddle a highly politicized narrative vaguely marketed as populist, it also takes the posture of superior morality and claims the arguments being made are objective. What’s the cornerstone of objectivity? That’s right, centrism! Stone seems to ultimately side with this ideology, claiming its adherents are the only rational ones left, what with those radical socialists who are too busy dealing with that “intersectionality” bullshit. The film goes one step further when its assertions enter into the realm of complete indifference toward human life: we’re told that since there were no nuclear-related deaths at Fukushima, it proves the comparative safety of this form of energy. How about we check in with the survivors in a decade and see if that’s still the case?
At its core, what Nuclear is saying about the world isn’t too out-of-pocket or deeply unjust. If anything, its staunch acceptance of the climate science community and their alarming findings is commendable — but even to these folks, Stone comes off like a snooty, self-righteous douchebag. He lectures one scientist about the Wright brothers and how, even though they would continuously fail, they persevered until they succeeded, which is what makes the scientific method beautiful. Sure, this is definitely something that Oliver Stone, of all the qualified people in the world, has the right to expound upon, and he takes it a step further with an incoherent rant during the doc’s unhinged final ten minutes — about the power and limitless possibilities of the human brain — that swerves into new-aged mythicism territory. By the time the film gets there, you’d be hard-pressed to imagine another individual who is less equipped to engage with this discourse.
Published as part of Venice International Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 2.