(Authors’ note- hey folks, since it is the horror season, I figured I would review several films involving themes that scare me. The following review is not meant to be a wild call to arms or to monger scares from readers, but it affected me so deeply when I first saw it because it involves something that terrifies me- nuclear war.)
The malevolent threat of nuclear warfare both small-scale and wide has haunted each and every one of us since the atomic bomb was made and used in Hiroshima, and this threat only intensified during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was literally watching the skies in fear. Humanity harnessed the power of the sun in the smallest of atoms that could terminate billions of lives in a millisecond, it is a power that we both fear and respect because we know what it can do, and it really cements how weak and fragile our bodies are compared to a thousand megaton of pure energy.
Countless films have been made about this aspect of our fears, and many of them have been met with a chill down the spine and a shudder (the dream sequence in ‘T2’ has been said to closely resemble what would actually happen in a nuclear attack- thanks James Cameron). But for every one of these dream sequences,’The Day After’s, and others of it’s ilk, this well-made pill of arsenic makes you feel like your gut has exploded and makes you want to slit your wrists at the same time while crying tears of bleach-filled blood.
As this film chronicles, society is a fragile tapestry made up of threads, and the moment they unravel, as does the entire thing.
The thing is, this is the type of movie people say “Well don’t watch it”, that makes you watch it anyway because the material compels you so strongly to do so. My advice is- watch it, but I would never blame you if you never watch it again.
Director Mick Jackson is not a particularly prolific film maker, but that doesn’t mean he has no skill, especially when it comes to presenting us with a more than bleak vision of the future should the world succumb to a nuclear apocalypse.
Although only set in the small British town of Sheffield, the effects of the attack will resonate within all who watch it wherever they may be. And here’s the kicker- this was made in 1984. Now while this IS a movie and it has been called as such, what also makes it stand out is that it is filmed as if it were a documentary. The characters in this film are solid (though some performances are take it or leave it), but the major draw is showing how all of the social network goes to Hell in a hand basket in the event of an indiscriminate catastrophe. This isn’t shaky footage- you see everything. You see decomposing, burned corpses, you see milk bottles burst apart when the nuke hits.
We bear explicit witness to people with glassy thousand-yard stares wandering aimlessly about simply because they have no place to go. You see nameless faces succumbing to the devastating effects of radiation, malnourishment and diseases that run rampant. You see the feeble attempts made by the government to control this devastation with little to no effect. The situation is absolutely hopeless for everybody. Nobody wins, there are no heroes who save the day, there is no triumph over adversity. There are no assurances that anybody could live because this is life, life that could potentially be real if the people of the world don’t listen to each other.
To make matters worse, all of this doesn’t just take place over a matter of months, by the time ‘Threads’ ends, it is a full 15 years after the attack and civilisation is the equivalent of the middle ages in terms of technology and labor with not one hope in sight. 15 years of nuclear winters, lack of resources, onsets of disease and nobody to help.
To top all of this off, we are slapped with a vicious backhand, where we see that human communication and language structure has since become a series of hardly recognisable goobledigook as there is no time for education. In once sequence we see a woman watching a video with no sound, mouthing the words of the presented on screen but she does not know the meaning of them. What matters is merely staying alive, whatever measures must be taken. This makes ‘The Day After’ look like a preschooler’s cartoon.
This is a must-see film, but it’s not one I personally would ever want to see again because it gets the message very loud and alarmingly clear. There is no winning when it comes to warfare, especially of the nuclear kind- the only thing you will gain is a scorched Earth with nothing else in it. Do you really want that?
Review written by Bea Harper