“Deepwater Horizon” – A Real Environmental Disaster

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg, 2016). As noted in posts such as the ones about Firestorm and The Last Message Umizaru, ‘disasters’ need not be merely about the loss of human lives, but can be about other forms of disaster. Deepwater Horizon is first and foremost about an environmental disaster, and is based on an actual event.

A summary about the movie on IMDb is as follows.

In April 2010, there is no oil exploration operation in the Gulf of Mexico to compare with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig with its size or sheer depth of its drilling. However, the project for the BP oil company is beset with technical difficulties to the point where the general operational supervisor, Jimmy Harrell, and his Chief Electrical Engineer, Mike Williams, are concerned potentially dangerous trouble is brewing. Unfortunately, visiting BP executives, frustrated by the project’s long delays, order curtailed site inspections and slanted system tests to make up for lost time even as Harrell, Williams and his team helplessly protest for the sake of proper safety. On April 20, the workers’ fears are realized in the worst possible way when the rig’s various structural and system flaws spark a catastrophic cascade of failures that would create a massive blowout and explosion that threatens them all, even as it also begins the worst environmental disaster in US history.


Within the IMDb entry on Deepwater Horizon, at the time of writing, twelve factual errors have been noted by viewers. I suspect that this is not as great as many of the movies that have been included in my study and were classified as ‘historical’ (that is, they were based on actual events – see discussion about this in my post on Aftermath). The issue of a movie’s responsibility to not have such errors, the need to portray the ‘truth’ and what the influence is of such movies on the public’s understanding of events is the subject of a book chapter that I am currently writing. It is one that is proving challenging for me. On the one side, when I consider portrayals of the JL123 crash (Climber’s High, Shizumanu Taiyo and One-no-Kanata-ni) I would like to see accuracy, but I also support Sheldon Hall’s view in his book Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It, about one of my favourite movies, Zulu, that in the end the movies need to be entertaining and that we should accept some factual errors. How this balance is achieved and what the implications are is something I will continue to consider as I make the finishing touches to the chapter.

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Deepwater Horizon has 13 out of the 17 and was one the movies that I rated the highest when I watched it.

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