50 and 49 , The Day After and Threads

The time has now come to make everything ready for you and your family in case an air attack happens. This does not mean that war is about to come, but there is a risk of it, and we must all be prepared

As i said in the foreword,there are no rules to the chosen films apart from, the film must have an apocalypse, no getting out of it at the last second. These two ‘films’ definitely live up to that, many would question my rules for including made for t.v. movies, but these are like no other made for t.v movies. Some will also question why I am looking at two films at the same time, but these two are linked together in so many ways, I feel if I was to split them up in this countdown I would only end up repeating myself and writing a similar post anyway down the line. Getting them both ‘over with’ at the start gets them out the way, because trust me you do not watch these films for fun.

I deliberately chose these films first as I think they may have had some bearing on my interest in these films, not only that but I am quite sure MI5 had me on some sort of watch list as the only books I seemed to borrow from the library were on the subject of Nuclear War and the aftermath.

The Day After was first broadcast on ABC on November 20th 1983, to put the film in its context the few years before it had seen a major escalation in the arms race, the cold war was at its height since 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Yuri Andropov was the Leader of the Soviet Union, a former leader of the KGB, a man who had never set foot out of the country, the men that surrounded him were all aging, and had lived through the second world war, when under the guise of war game, the Germans invaded their country, so there was no trust of the west.

In the White House, Ronald Reagan had been elected President of the United States, he had been outspoken against the Soviet Union, describing it as “the evil empire” that “must be stopped no matter the consequences” In 1983 Reagan announced his latest defence project, commonly known as STAR WARS, a satellite defence mechanism, that could shoot nuclear missiles launched from the Soviet Union while in space. The Soviets saw this as rendering their nuclear arsenal obsolete, and defenceless against an American first strike, so tensions were at their very highest

The Day After is set in the Lawrence, Kansas, thought to be the very centre of the United States, it’s the site of The university of Kansas about 20 miles south of the city itself, this allows us to see the immediate aftermath of a nuclear attack, being set in the University allows us to see how a medical lecturer, played by Jason Robards, attempts to cope with the resulting chaos, also we have an understanding of the nuclear missiles from a University science building and its professors, who can explain to the viewer of the electro magnetic pulse if a nuclear weapon is set off in the atmosphere, and also of the fall out and radiation sickness, that the characters end up suffering with.

The first half of The Day After introduces us to the characters, its pretty corny in the extreme, the daughter of the farm family running off for a night of passion with her fiancée, her father telling her off as she comes home in the morning. Jason Robards character seeing all of his family when visiting Kansas City, touring an art gallery with his daughter. My opinion is this is intentionally corny, this is light soap opera, this is what we see in many tv shows of the time, and iis placed here to be juxtaposed against the horror that will follow. The Day After is directed by Nicholas Meyer, writer and director of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, arguably the most popular of the Star Trek films, in which the characters of Gene Roddenberry’s fictional 23rd Century tv show travel back in time and are juxtaposed against the world of the 1980’s, Meyer manages to poke fun at not only our own world but also the perfectness of Roddenberry’s 23rd Century. So i firmly believe that the cornyness here is absolutely intentional.

The tension slowly builds, as in the background of all scenes we see the news telling us of the escalation of military action, this is common place now, and may well be the first apocalyptic motif, we here the characters thoughts on the build up, some saying it will come to nothing, however we the viewer are aware what has to come, so this slowly builds tension.

Threads similarly has a first act which introduces us to two families, which are preparing for an unplanned pregnancy, and a wedding. Threads certainly isnt as corny in the opening, however again it is very similar to a soap opera, the main difference however is we have a documentary style narrator, telling us of “how the councils will plan for such an attack” there is also graphics on-screen, very much more a documentary feel, which adds to the realism, I have never seen any other film build their narrative in this way, but it absolutely works for Threads. Again the military escalation is told on radios and tv’s, and we hear the characters reaction to it. “I hope if they do drop the bomb, I’m pissed, and right below it”

As you can see these attack sequences totally change the tone of both films, even watching them on their own here, they are shocking, and it jolts the senses for what you are about to see in the second half of the films. I saw both films when I was around 11 years old, but I was surprised at the amount of images which had remained engrained in my mind, these were films designed to shock, and they still do, Threads will have you replaying the images for days if not weeks afterwards, what we see is what civilization might be like after an attack, the survivors envying the dead, these films are horrific, and I can only imagine that of this is the film take on it then a nuclear attack would actually be even worse than shown, Threads is interesting in the second half as we never see a character actually die on-screen, although the director never shys from the horror of the survivors for those final moments the camera gives them peace. It’s only Ruth who we finally see die near the end of her film, and her daughters non sympathy for her own mothers death that tells its own story.

I would recommend anyone to watch these films, however with a warning, they will affect you. Even in this age of the cold war having ended, we still have these weapons, and this could so easily happen. Which makes these films scarier then any other form of apocalyptic films. The end of the cold war brings us back to the significance of these two films, and probably The Day After in particular, as discussed above the world seemed more likely on the verge of nuclear war than ever before in 1983, then this film came along, there was a discussion after it was shown, in which Carl Sagan was a guest, where he first gave his theory on a nuclear winter, which would later be depicted in Threads, he described the arms race

Imagine, a room, awash in gasoline. And there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has 9,000 matches. The other has 7,000 matches. Each of them is concerned about who’s ahead, who’s stronger. Well, that’s the kind of situation we are actually in

Only two months after The Day After was shown on American TV to an audience which to this day still stands as the highest ratings for any direct tv movie, Ronald Reagan made his state of the Union address, the same man who had previously described the Soviet Union as the evil empire , On January 16, 1984, he delivered a conciliatory address, declaring that the United States and the Soviet Union had “common interests and the foremost among them is to avoid war and reduce the level of arms.” Indeed, “I support a zero option for all nuclear arms”

This speech was a turning point for the nuclear world, the arms race slowed, treaties were signed, and by the 90s the soviet union crumbled, and with it the cold war. We live in a very different age now, I still remember the 1980s and how obsessed I became with nuclear war, and the almost certainty of it. These two films could well have played a significant part in the fact that we didn’t end up in an apocalypse, and only now 29 years later we can look back on these films and see the importance, for me we could argue then that The Day After and Threads are the two most important stories committed to celluloid.


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