K19: The Widowmaker
"It's my favorite movie about Russian patriotism, in fact, it's the only one!"—Caleb West (he loved it)
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 Kathryn Bigelow, of Point Break and The Hurt Locker fame.
In 1959, the Soviet Union launches its first nuclear submarine, the K-19 - nicknamed "The Widowmaker" due to many deaths that occurred during manufacturing. The ship is led by Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), aided by executive officer Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). 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.
Submarine 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.
- A Father to His Men : Both Captains, but Polenin moreso than Vostrikov, even if the dynamics between both captains actually make Polenin feel more like the Team Mom of the crew.
- Based on a True Story : Some feel it's more of a Very Loosely Based on a True Story.
- The Captain : 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.
- 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.
- Cold War
- Corrupt Corporate Executive / Obstructive Bureaucrat: More like Corrupt Politburo Party Members. The vast majority of the K-19 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 not fail.
- 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.
- Did Not Do the Research: Nuclear reactors, by very nature, do not create a nuclear explosion if they melt down. Similarly, you can't "cook off" a Nuclear warhead. Although Radtchenko confesses he has no idea what would actually happen, he just speculates.
Radtchenko:The temperature will keep rising 'til it reaches 1,000 degrees, and...
Vostrikov:And? And WHAT?
Radtchenko:No one knows.
- K-19 wasn't the USSR's first nuclear sub — that distinction went to K-3, which was an attack sub, and while similarly "reliable" wasn't that prone to serious accidents. K-19 was the first nuclear missile sub.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Radtchenko's Heroic Sacrifice is eerily similar to Spock's.
- Downer Ending: 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 crew member 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.
- Failed to Pay Shipping Charges: 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 drama.
- Fingore: While unloading a torpedo, a sailor's hand gets mangled up when its caught in the chain pulley.
- Going Critical
- Hazmat Suit: 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 Powered Armor 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.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The second half of the movie is pretty much a series of these.
- Let Them Die Happy: The poor soldiers who sacrificed themselves to prevent K-19 from going critical.
- Mnogo Nukes Missile Submarines
- The Mutiny: Inverted, the political officer attempts to countermand Vostrikov and give command to Polenin so they can abandon ship. He refuses and has them locked up.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast : The Widowmaker. Although in Real Life, it didn't earn a nickname till after its nuclear accident, which by the way, it was Hiroshima.
- Nautical Folklore : Why the crew thinks is a bad omen that the bottle didn't break during the Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony.
- It's also usually considered bad luck to have two captains on one ship.
- The Neidermeyer : 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.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: To the amusement of some, Harrison Ford seems to alternate between this and bursts of Lzherusskie. It's more egregious with Liam Neeson however.
- 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 wobbly accents, too.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: Whenever they have to go into the reactor and fix the reactor cooling system.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: See Lzherusskie above.
- Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: It does not bode well when the bottle fails to break. A sailor even remarks they're cursed.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A sailor jumps off the submarine when the alarm sounds off again after one of the rigged coolant pipes fails.
- Someone Has to Die
- Showing Off the Perilous Power Source
- Sub Story
- Tear Jerker : The 2nd half of the movie.
- The So-Called Coward : 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.
- This Is Not a Drill
- Vehicle Title : The Aforementioned K19
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film plays fast and loose with the facts, abandoning them whenever it allows to play up the Rule of Drama. 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 Cold War cliches like the crew mooning Americans.
- World War III : 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.