Radioactive wild boar invades cities in southern Germany. They take a man in a wheelchair out; they break through fences and roam the roads, shutting down highway traffic; they travel in droves and hunt for food. Police are fighting to restore calm and order in city centers. The radioactive boars are armed with a post-apocalyptic payload; they live in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. By foraging on radioactive plants, the animals embody the return of a catastrophe many seek to suppress. Following the collapse and meltdown of a Chernobyl reactor, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the 20-mile-long exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant. Residents exposed to the radiation suffered from radiation poisoning, leukemia and thyroid cancer. It is estimated that about 4,000 people may die from diseases related to the accident.
Now in the exclusion zone, in the middle of cracked streets overgrown with weeds, a bear paws its way through a dilapidated city. Markers of human habitation are slowly faltering into a dilapidated ruin. Paint peels from buildings and windows have lost their glass. Signs are skewed, signaling to no one their previously relevant information about a street name, a grocery store, the café’s opening hours. In abandoned pastures, there are only sparse indications of the former crops, while native grasses transform the space into a meadow. Short thick horses – the only subspecies that has never been tamed – run wild, where humans will never plant again. Thick-haired bison roam forests and fields they have not known for centuries. Without fear of being hunted, the animals thrive in a spooky mutant, post-human wildlife sanctuary, where the radiation remains 10 to 100 times higher than is safe for residence. Rare species not seen in the region for hundreds of years have returned, including the Przewalski horse, the European bison, the lynx and the Eurasian brown bear.
As for the radioactive boar several hundred kilometers away in Germany, with an omnivorous appetite and robust snouts to exterminate food, they eat their landscape. They eat acorns, nuts and insects, but also find truffles, tubers and fungi, which absorb high levels of radioactive waste that decades ago drove tailwinds from the power plant’s meltdown. In droves, the boar makes its way into the nearby towns with the intention of a density of food in trash cans, park bins and alleys. Weighing around £ 400 each and with tusks and unpredictable temperaments, they get the right to drive in urban areas. A rough-haired savagery is at odds with the orderly small-town environments they find themselves in.
Decades later, Chernobyl disappears from memory. Generations have passed for humans. But for the radioactive elements that triggered the disaster, life has just begun. The nuclear reactor nuclear fire lives on, but invisibly. And the boar carries it with it. They carry the essence of our failed technology and the indifference to the life of a radioactive isotope.
Maybe we should pay more attention to our fictions. Godzilla, a fabricated prehistoric marine reptile monster empowered by nuclear radiation, reminded Japan and the rest of the world that radioactive material is a beast that is more powerful and lives longer than humans can imagine. Godzilla makes the otherwise invisible nuclear threat visible. His general indifference to humans makes him an appropriate avatar for radioactive material.
The Godzilla movies spawned other notable monsters, including the massive radiant moth creature Mothra, accompanied by small humanoid twins speaking on behalf of the creature. Mothra appeared in 16 films, including Godzilla vs. Mothra in 1964 and its remake in 1992 and The rebirth of Mothrathere like Rocky series, had a number of unfortunate successors. Of the many Japanese monster movies, Mothra vs. Bagan never got past a manuscript, but it should have been. Bagan is a massive multi-horned rhinoceros with wings that thousands of years ago protected the earth from threats. Cut to the present as Bagan is released from captivity in a glacier that is melting due to global warming. As the protector of nature, the monster sets out to destroy humanity, which destroys the earth. Lots of people are facing their doom while the rest are asking for help. Mothra hears their cries and flies to their aid. But the help is short-lived, as Bagan wisely wanted Mothra in what would be an epic scene for an actor wearing a latex costume and a puppet moth with cardboard wings. With the monster mill defeated, everything seems to be lost. But on a remote island, one of the moth monster’s eggs hatches and a new Mothra is born. After various plot twists and thrills, the young Mothra defeats Bagan, the protector of the earth. While it is clear that the earth needs to be saved, we have a problem scripting ourselves out of existence to improve the non-human world. It is as if Mothra vs. Bagan plays itself over and over again. While Bagan returns again and again, one day there may not be a Mothra spawn to save humanity.