Countdown to Zero



Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 80% · 88 reviews
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 72%
IMDb Rating 6.9/10 10 2282 2.3K

Plot summary

A documentary about the escalating nuclear arms race.

August 09, 2023 at 03:31 AM


Lucy Walker

Top cast

Gary Oldman as Narrator
J. Robert Oppenheimer as Self
Jimmy Carter as Self
Mikhail Gorbachev as Self
819.49 MB
English 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 28 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Ryan_MYeah 8 / 10

A compelling, but also very unsettling piece of research.

After a rather boring last few days, I finally got a bit of a shock after watching Lucy Walker's unsettling documentary, Countdown to Zero.

Using the quote "Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, etc." by John F. Kennedy as a structure of storytelling basis, Countdown to Zero explains in an essay-like form of the dangers of nuclear weapons even after decades since the end of the Cold War, and how these could be detonated, intentionally or unintentionally, and blow numbers of the human race off the earth.

Walker explains this in three categories: "Madness" "Accident" and "Miscalculation." Examining the back story of the invention of the A-Bomb by Oppenheimer, to more current events of near catastrophe, she exacts just the right tone that is necessary for the film. While the editing and pacing feels very slow, and a bit choppy at times, as well as slipping a little back into madness every so often, it's nothing if not a brilliant piece of research into this very subject.

It's a very eye opening movie, probably the best example of this, and the best scene of the film, is a hypothetical nuclear explosion taking place in New York City at Times Square after the New Year's Eve countdown, that features a brilliant sound mixture of audio narrations by many of Walker's sources by Michael Minkler and Tony Lamberti, and boy, is it one intense hypothetical.

It's a compelling piece of film making that asks many to help eliminate a major threat, and never becomes sleep inducing.

I give Countdown to Zero *** out of ****

Reviewed by Dr_Coulardeau 8 / 10

Too short on the causes

This documentary is based and constructed around one quote by John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his address before the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 25, 1961:

"Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."

The logic of the film is simple. We have' more than twenty thousand nuclear devices in the world in the hands of a very small number of countries and thus in the hands of machines that control them, military personnel that manages the machine and political personnel that controls the military personnel that controls the machines that control the nuclear devices. All along that command line individuals can make the wrong evaluation of a situation, take the wrong decision on the basis of that wrong evaluation and within 20 to 30 minutes it will have happened: one city or more will have been destroyed, and within a few more minutes, retaliation will come. And once it is started it cannot be stopped. There is no comeback, no turn-back, nor step-back.

In that command line we just need an accident caused by some mechanical failure, or some miscalculation brought up by the misinterpretation of some data provided by the machines, or some madness, or let's say some mental derangement of one actor in that chain of command. The film provides several instances of close to the brink situations that occurred over the years. Evaluation of the damage in the case of one nuclear weapon on one big city in the world is just over-dramatic and seems to only play on fear in the audience. If the public is only motivated by fear, then there is no hope.

Hope can only come if the public, the vast wide general public is convinced we have to get rid of nuclear weapons not because they are afraid but because of positive reasons like the fact humanity means life, means creative development, means continued progress, and nuclear weapons, both possession and use, are none of these, not life, not creative development, not continued progress. We could also develop some positive ethical arguments going the same way, provided we clearly see the difference between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Just like nuclear power can be used in nuclear submarines or in nuclear ships it may have one day to be used in space travel, and not fission but fusion. Not using nuclear energy for weapons is definitely nothing but an ethical decision and the mark of ethical human control of humanity. It is not because the internal combustion engine was used in tanks that we are supposed to ban the internal combustion engine, all cars and many other applications. It is not because some planes are military bombers that we are supposed to ban air travel.

That's the first shortcoming of this film: nuclear energy is not clearly differentiated from nuclear weapons and yet only the French images project the confusion by stating "NON AU NUCLÉAIRE" (No Nuclear) meaning the rejection of both nuclear energy and weapons, though in fact in the mind of the French people who put forward this motto (the Greens), it is nuclear energy they have in mind. The images from all other countries and the interviews always target nuclear weapons. But it would be clear to say that nuclear energy is another can of worms and these worms might be earth worms, very useful worms for agriculture, gardening and hence surviving hunger.

The second shortcoming is the very ambiguous message about terrorism and about proliferation. The film insists with images and long sequences on the Islamic danger of Pakistan who has nuclear weapons – supposedly thanks to the Chinese, though we do not know where the Chinese got the technology, from the Soviets maybe? – and who sells the blue print as much as the technology to anyone who wants to pay. The Pakistani bomb is called the Islamic Nuclear Bomb and it is at once connected to Al Qaeda and Iran, and allusions to more Muslim countries in the Middle East or the Arab world are added. Nothing is said about the proliferation of nuclear weapons to India, the Hindu Bomb, etc., and where it could have come from – the Soviets I guess? And still along that line there are a few elements about North Korea, still under the rule of Kim the Second, not yet Kim the Third. This presentation is absolutely biased and debatable. And what about France, Great Britain and Israel?

Terrorism is a problem but we have other forms of terrorism than Islamic terrorism, even today. Terrorism has causes and to only speak of containing and controlling it is a waste of time since it will bring no solution to the real causes. And by the way how did the apartheid South Africa manage to get nuclear fuel to be able to build nuclear weapons at a time when a total embargo was imposed onto this country for anything military? And the film is a little bit short on the fact that there are an unevaluated and definitely uncontrolled amount of Highly Enriched Uranium and Plutonium running loose on the planet's black market, enough to produce thousands of nuclear weapons of various categories from a dirty bomb to a real nuclear weapon. And this black market can only exist because of the diamond and other gems black market, because of the uncontrolled speculative financial market and the vast international financial laundering machine through and via the various fiscal paradises and tax havens.

To be seen, widened and discussed as much as possible.


Reviewed by FilmRap 7 / 10

Very Scary But Enlightening

When I was a youngster I was keenly aware of the eminent threat of nuclear disaster that could wipe us out at any moment. We had drills in school where we would duck under our desks and run away from the window, as if that could protect us from a nuclear blast. But once the cold war ended, the idea that an Atomic or Hydrogen Bomb could destroy our cities or end our lives was not a concern. Even when the news reported that Iran was trying to become a nuclear power, my anxiety was not raised and I never thought that my life, the safety of my family or our country's well being was in jeopardy. That is until I saw this documentary film written and directed by Lucy Walker and produced and edited by a crackerjack experienced team. They skillfully build the film around the words of John F. Kennedy who proclaimed in a speech in 1961, "Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness." The filmmakers then show us dramatic movie clips of such events as near nuclear accidents where five of six safety devices failed, lost atomic weapons, both American and Russian governments misinterpreting data and being seconds away from launching a retaliatory nuclear strike against an imagined attack on their country. There are interviews with former CIA agent Valerie Plume, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmie Carter, Tony Blair, and Robert MacNamara in the last interview before he died, which all discuss the serious dangers that nuclear weapons pose today. The film shows how easy it is to make a nuclear bomb, how destructive it can be and how terrorists are very hot to make one and use it. The film pulls no punches and certainly can scare the living daylights out of you. The goal of this documentary and the various sponsors of the film are encompassed in the title, "Countdown to Zero" with the subtitle " Demand Zero". It is worth noting that JFK followed up the quote mentioned above with the statement, "The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." The filmmakers believe that if the people all over the world demand nuclear disarmament, it will happen. This documentary certainly makes their point and one of their principle producers, Participant Media makes suggestions on their web site: as to how to get this conversation started. This film will also eventually be shown on the History Channel, which is one of the backers of it, and I also hope it will end up in many schools to pass on this message to new generations who will have to finish the job of nuclear disarmament.

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