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Radioactivity in the movies

Even though discovery of radium and polonium was in the similar period with the invention of film, there was no movies dealt with the radioactivity in their plotline in the early film history. In fact, when Curies discovered the Polonium in 18 July 1898, films had just started to begin. It was 1888 when the first motion picture film was made. As the movie industries grow with the film technology, the subjects of the film began to expand. In late 20th’s and 21st century’s, the clichés related to radioactivity are widespread in movies. The conceptual variations of radioactivity commonly used as an explanation to the character’s special power. Fictional substances in the movies overlap some of the visual and elemental property of radioactive substances and often times have a direct relationship with main character’s struggle of mission.

Movie Hulk is a great example of how radioactivity explains character’s origin of power.

Dr. Bruce Banner severely exposed in gamma ray and turned into a green monster, Hulk. His character setting originally had relation the radioactivity because he has a doctorate in nuclear physics and was developing a nuclear weapon for United States. The movie used the exposure of radiation as a powerful catalyst that can transforms main character in the plot. Most of these changes are considered as something irreversible and permanent. This similar attitudes towards radiation exposure repeatedly appeared in different movies. In Spider man movie, Peter Parker gained his Spider power when he was bitten by a radioactive spider. Tony stark of the Iron man movie built his personal energy generator in his chest that just resembles the mechanism of nuclear reactor. These setting in movies provides minimum amount of verisimilitude to the character although scientifically it doesn’t make any sense. Lack of correctness of information about radioactivity creates cliché. Compared to the fictional genetic mutation which gave superpowers to characters, direct contact with medical purpose of radiation exposure in real life can trigger only tiny changes to organisms and it can’t enhance the human ability. Direct contact of nuclear radiation exposures can’t beneficial to human at all and can lead to cancer, birth defect and chromosome aberration.

Fig.1 Superman.2013. Joshua Graham. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

Superman movie plot cleverly twisted a bit of radioactivity cliché and turned into character’s weakness. Kryptonite, an imaginative substance from the Superman’s planet Krypton, first presented by DC Comics in 1949. It depicted in series of comics as red, blue and white, but most commonly presented as luminous green which is a common visual implication of radioactivity. It coined as green in media because of the development of glowing paint in 1908. The main ingredient of paint was Zinc Sulphide phosphor. It glowed bright green when it exposed to radioactivity. In order to keep illumination longer, radium was mixed in the paint. The paint became popular and used in many different industries until the radium inside brought people sick. Now there are alternatives ingredients for glowing paints, but green as a color became a cliché to describe the radiation glow. The real glow of the radioactive elements are actually invisible. However, when emitted radiations are converted to visible lights they glow blue. Also, the way movie presents the effect of Kryptonite exposure to Superman resembles the effect of radiation exposure to people. Pierre Curie faltered from radiation exposure and Superman can’t use his power when he contacts the Kryptonite.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is another great example of how cliché related to radioactivity became a struggle of character’s mission. The main character Ethan Hunt and his team received a mission which is to clear their organization’s name by reaching the Russian nuclear strategist and eventually stops the nuclear missile launch to the submarine. The movie doesn’t reveal much background details of how they had gone to the situation they are now.  Dictionary.com defines the cliché as a stereotyped expression with overused, unoriginal thought. Stopping antagonist’s plan to launch nuclear missile had overused in many spy movies and action films. There was a time when people considered nuclear weapon as a tangible threat and the possibilities of mutual destruction of the world, because of World War 2 and cold war era.

Fig. 4 nuclear tea party. 2014. Triapus. Tumblr. 25 Feb. 2016.
Fig.2 nuclear tea party. 2014. Triapus. Tumblr. 25 Feb. 2016.

Critic Ned Broderick argued that the disaster films from the 50s and 60s are all allegories of Cold War and nuclear armament. Films like in “On the beach” in 1959“Dr.Strangelove” in 1964 and “When the wind blows” in 1986 commonly reflects the fear of nuclear destruction that had shared with public in the era. Of course nuclear conflict is still a obvious danger present in contemporary society, however, it is irrelevant in the movie made in 2011 to believe that there is a logical reason that Russian government wants to attack US with nuclear missile. The mission to stop the nuclear conflict, or the depiction of nuclear bomb itself in the movies are now just a tool to create thrilling episodes of challenges revolves around the main character. It is clearly shown in scientifically impossible scene of the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull when character remains safe from the nuclear bomb by hiding in the fridge.

Even though now many expressions related to radioactivity in movies are presented as clichés,it provided inspiration to many movie makers. It is hard to deny the influence of radioactity and development of nuclear weapon in the movie history.

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