Join 3,556 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"Threads" and "Testament"
February 25, 2011 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Threads (1984). (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) Testament (1983). (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

The Fate of the Earth (1982)

(related)
posted by Joe Beese (66 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.
posted by availablelight at 12:15 PM on February 25, 2011


A little context from Wikipedia: Threads is a British television drama produced by the BBC in 1984. Written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, it is a documentary-style account of a nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in northern England.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 12:16 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's also one of the most depressing things ever.
posted by The Whelk at 12:16 PM on February 25, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'll take "apocalyptic visions of the future as seen from the era of big hair and padded shoulders" for 100, Alex.
posted by ardgedee at 12:19 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


So?
posted by Reverend John at 12:20 PM on February 25, 2011


The most depressing thing about Threads is also the least realistic- that in hard times, people stop caring about each other.
posted by leibniz at 12:21 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Threads is pretty much my favorite nuclear-apocalypse movie. It makes the (american, steve gutenberg-starring) The Day After look like the Muppet Show or something.
posted by capnsue at 12:21 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most depressing thing about Threads is also the least realistic- that in hard times, people stop caring about each other.

I sentence you to watch the semiautobiographical Grave of the Fireflies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:23 PM on February 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


aaaaaaahhh. i watched this a while back. gah.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:25 PM on February 25, 2011


NONONONONO you can't make me watch Threads again.
posted by maudlin at 12:27 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Friday nuclear Flash Fun
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:28 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can't forget the awfully sad When the Wind Blows.
posted by lumensimus at 12:29 PM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Suggested reading.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:30 PM on February 25, 2011


oh dammit!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:30 PM on February 25, 2011


The first rule of Threads is never watch Threads.
The second rule of Threads is never watch Grave of the Fireflies either.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going home to watch a re-run of The Body from season 5 of Buffy.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


You know, to cheer myself up.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:33 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, unfortunately any American movie wouldn't have had nearly so many actors pissing their pants for the camera. Hilarious, even if it is realistic. "Okay, Gutenberg, 3, 2, 1, start pissing! Camera 3 extreme closeup of Steve's puddle! Shit! We're gonna have to shoot that again!"
Steve G:
"Can we get my body double in here? I'm all dried up."
"Yes, we know. You've always been."
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 12:33 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The contrast between Threads and The Day After is fascinating. In the latter there's the sense that no matter how bad things get, the large scale of the USA means that some place somewhere, life goes on. If you've found a back water away from cities, away from missile silos, then you might just make it. As bleak as things get, there's still room for that survivalist fantasy. Whereas in Threads, in the UK, you're basically fucked. It's a small island, and there's nowhere to go. That utter hopelessness strikes me as uniquely British. All you have left is a grim comfort in knowing that your annihilation will be absolute, and you're excused the pointless struggle of post-nuclear life.
posted by iivix at 12:37 PM on February 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Threads is also available all in one go on Google Video.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:38 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just reading a summary of Threads the last time it was posted here was more than I could easily handle. Forget watching it. (Same with The Road: read the summaries so I'd know about it, but reading it was out of the question).

I stumbled across When the Wind Blows in a bookstore when it came out, and it messed me up.

Seeing bits of The Day After as a kid gave me nuclear-war nightmares for months.

I don't get people who find this stuff entertaining instead of suicidal-thoughts-causing, but then I feel the same way about horror movies. Don't have the ability to create that distance, don't like the late-night replays in my brain.
posted by emjaybee at 12:40 PM on February 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's too nice out for Threads.
posted by Scoo at 12:52 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I took When the Wind Blows out of my local library when I was 11.

Yeah... bad idea.
posted by PenDevil at 12:55 PM on February 25, 2011


I'm curious how people born after, say, 1991, react to Threads. (... asking as a Gen-Xer who saw this first during the Reagan/Cold War years, when this was not only incredibly realistic but all-too-possible)

[and for those people saying, don't want Threads... no, watch it. You're cheating yourselves of a powerful experience otherwise, and something of a historical education/remembrance, in my opinion.]
posted by Auden at 12:56 PM on February 25, 2011


"Threads" made an indelible impression on me - I saw it as a kid (on TV in the US in, I think, '85) and was frightened to the point of crying. I thought about the scene @45:58 for weeks afterward.

Between that, "The Day After", and seeing Reagan's smug, grimacing face on the news every night, I grew up convinced that the people governing us were mostly insane. Thinking that there was a pretty good chance I wouldn't live to be an adult was a source of a lot of depression and anxiety.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:57 PM on February 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have seen both Threads and Testament, as well as The Day After, Fail-Safe, On the Beach, Grave of the Fireflies, When the Wind Blows, and Special Bulletin. I suppose I have a bizarre fascination with this era of history, and some of them (especially Grave of the Fireflies) are even good films. Anyway, I've seen a ton of this stuff, as well as plenty of other disturbing fare. I sleep just fine most of the time.

However, the only two things I've ever seen in my life that I wish I could unsee are Threads and the video clip of Clint Malarchuk's injury. Be sure you want to watch Threads before you do. It is a powerful cinematic experience, definitely, but holy Christ, it will stick with you. At 28, I'm too young to really remember the full force of Cold War paranoia, and I only watched Threads a few years ago. It still gives me nightmares sometimes - I'd hate to think of the reaction if I'd watched it in 1984.
posted by timetoevolve at 1:07 PM on February 25, 2011


Yay Testament! Jane Alexander sees a nuke airburst over nearby San Francisco and in the coming days eats the last spoonful of peanut butter she'll ever have and talks with her daughter about what sex would have been like. Then the little boy from "Witness" dies of radiation sickness and they bury him in the backyard. Box office was not huge.
posted by longsleeves at 1:11 PM on February 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's nothing I'd change about Threads, but I don't think I need to watch it a second time. (I was around 18 when I saw it in the 1980s.) But I'm happy to report that I can still take The Big Snit, another nuclear-themed product of the Eighties, but that's about as hardcore as I go now.
posted by The Mouthchew at 1:11 PM on February 25, 2011


The Cold War is over but this how the How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III (2011).
posted by stbalbach at 1:21 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to use up an AskMe on this, but this is the perfect thread to ask: does anyone know of any films in the same vein as Threads/The Day After etc, but from a Soviet perspective with the West as provocateur?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 1:23 PM on February 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you're settling in for a depressing evening of British nuclear apocalypse, I'd make it a triple feature with The War Game and wrap it all up with The Bed-Sitting Room, which is quite possibly one of the most fucking gloriously deranged films ever created by someone who is not a Continental surreallist.
posted by sonascope at 1:23 PM on February 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull: "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going home to watch a re-run of The Body from season 5 of Buffy."

jesus don't google buffy the body at work
posted by mkb at 1:24 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most depressing thing about Threads is also the least realistic - that in hard times, people stop caring about each other.

I sentence you to watch the semiautobiographical Grave of the Fireflies.


You can follow up with Colin Turnbull's The Mountain People. From a review:

He shows in detail how survival becomes a personal affair. Food is no longer shared. Men hunt what they can and eat it far from the village and women collect only for themselves. As starvation sets in children and old people die as they are not fed, the tribe becomes known for its cattle thieving among the neighbouring groups. The thieving becomes intense among themselves and Turnbull interestingly shows how this becomes the new norm.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:25 PM on February 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually, this song always reminded me of Threads. That may be the point.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:27 PM on February 25, 2011


seeing Reagan's smug, grimacing face on the news every night, I grew up convinced that the people governing us were mostly insane. Thinking that there was a pretty good chance I wouldn't live to be an adult was a source of a lot of depression and anxiety.

ryanshepard, I'm right there with you. I watched all those as a teenager, and felt exactly the same way about things. The people in charge seemed insane and our futures seemed precarious at best.

Come to think of it, that sort of describes how I feel now, except with slightly different variables. *sigh*
posted by atlatl at 1:28 PM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm curious how people born after, say, 1991, react to Threads. (... asking as a Gen-Xer who saw this first during the Reagan/Cold War years, when this was not only incredibly realistic but all-too-possible)

I was born well before that, but I didn't watch Threads until the last MeFi post about it (thanks a lot, fuckers). It scared me so much that I sat up all night, in my apartment, all alone, with the lights on--and then the next day urged all my friends to watch it so they could share my horror.

That movie...yeah, watch it with friends in the sunshine and then go find some children and teach them how to read or something. Jesus.
posted by librarylis at 1:46 PM on February 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Come to think of it, that sort of describes how I feel now, except with slightly different variables. *sigh*

I see now that this describes what inspired the post.

The hopelessness I feel now reminds me of the hopelessness I felt then.

But who knows? I couldn't have imagined this world back then. There will always be surprises. Some of them may be good ones.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2011


Seconding Fail-Safe as contender for the hopelessness trifecta. Do not watch it on the same night as Threads unless you have some sort of drinking game planned.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:47 PM on February 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


She's about to look at the baby and shriek HE'S ADORABLE! And then go outside, pull up a turnip and vomit it, swear never to go hungry again, and lead the tattered remnants of Great Britain into a hidden valley in Wales, untouched by fallout, where they'll rebuild civilization. Right?
posted by condour75 at 1:54 PM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I, too, hope for good surprises. Godzilla munching on the Koch Brothers (& their ilk) while roaring a metal-rending sound would be one such awesome surprise. Who knows!
posted by atlatl at 2:12 PM on February 25, 2011


When The Wind Blows is so awesome I'm not sure I ever want to see it again.

It does have an awesome soundtrack album, however, with half of it featuring the score by Roger Waters.
posted by hippybear at 2:15 PM on February 25, 2011


These films are all quite sad, but the most depressing experience I've ever had in a theatre is still Ace Ventura: Pet Detective on opening night.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:38 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


One of the very best, rawest, most heart rending Portishead songs is based somewhat on Threads.

Clicky!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:40 PM on February 25, 2011


jesus don't google buffy the body at work

Wow...I did not expect that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2011


I just watched Threads for the first time. I'm glad I didn't see it when I was a kid. What a disturbing movie.

If you're a dystopia/misery junkie, this movie is like uncut heroin. For everyone else, it's a sentence to recurring nightmares.

I'm going to huddle under a filthy blanket now and rock myself to sleep in the squalor.

Sweet dreams.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:59 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cat Pie Hurts: I was going to use up an AskMe on this, but this is the perfect thread to ask: does anyone know of any films in the same vein as Threads/The Day After etc, but from a Soviet perspective with the West as provocateur?

Stalker, maybe. There's no explicit Western provocateur (we just know there's been an unspecific apocalyptic event), but it certainly matches Threads on the dystopia-o-meter.
posted by afx237vi at 3:16 PM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it was Roger Ebert who said of Grave of the Fireflies, "An incredible film that I never want to watch again." I once had a coworker who had one of the small metal tins of candy on his desk, and I never could look at it without feeling the ache induced by that movie.

The Day After came out when I was in middle school, and I remember that our teacher asked us all to write an assignment about what we thought. I don't really remember my reaction, other than young 15 schniztengruben thought evaporating into plasma might be fun. Ah, the black humor of growing up during the Reagan years.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:29 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


You'll be pleased to note that the place where the bomb goes off in Threads is now a shopping mall.
posted by vbfg at 3:49 PM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I saw Threads at my grandparents house. We visited them a couple of times a month, back in those days. It wasn't the final house they lived in - it was one at the end of a cul-de-sac a few blocks from their final house. They moved pretty frequently, but I remember that the TV Room was on the second floor and that it was one of those early-70's plastic color TVs with rabbit ears and a dial. Probably it was a TV that had been demoted to the second floor TV room, as thy had a better TV downstairs.

I don't remember a single other room in any of their other houses, but I remember that room because that's where I watched Threads and I was grateful when they moved, because it meant I'd never have to be in that room again.

Yeah, Threads made an impression.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:50 PM on February 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


As a connoisseur of Apocalyptica, Threads is one of my favourites of the genre. It nicely captures the subdued underlying "We're all gonna die" zeitgeist of the 80's.

I love the scene when the politicians and technocrats survive into the bomb-proof bunker, but only to ask: what next?
posted by ovvl at 4:17 PM on February 25, 2011


Testament was like a Steven Spielberg movie gone horribly, horribly wrong.

I had a hard time with Lukas Haas's death scene. I really don't know if I ever want to see Threads.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:00 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how people born after, say, 1991, react to Threads. (... asking as a Gen-Xer who saw this first during the Reagan/Cold War years, when this was not only incredibly realistic but all-too-possible)

I was born in 1989, a little before your line but late enough that I was never exposed to any kind cold war fear. Mostly it makes me wonder how the fuck people functioned normally with nuclear apocalypse constantly looming.
posted by p3on at 6:12 PM on February 25, 2011


We functioned but it was far from normal.
Go check out some of our cOmments in the Previously thread up there and see how much you can identify with. And I don't mean that to be standoffish. I'm really interested in how it might contrast for you.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 6:35 PM on February 25, 2011


Mostly it makes me wonder how the fuck people functioned normally with nuclear apocalypse constantly looming.

The same way they function with polar ice sheets collapsing, sea levels rising, fish stocks cratering, and a substantial chunk of the US population on the verge of beggary - obliviousness, denial, quiet (or not so quiet) despair, and self-medication.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:00 PM on February 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


This book might deserve its own thread (no pun intended) but for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in 1980's apocalypse media should read Warday. It's out of print, I think, but was a bestseller back in the day so should be easy to find.

The book takes an interesting perspective where the two authors, Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka, insert themselves and their families into a detailed future history of the brief nuclear war of 1988, written in the style of Terkel's The Good War or, if you prefer fictional journalism, in the same style as World War Z, One major difference between this book and the apocalyptic movies of the time period was that the nuclear war wasn't really an apocalypse. In the US, the missile fields of Montana and the Dakotas were destroyed. New York City, Washington DC, and, thanks to monumental bad luck, San Antonio were also annihilated. Thanks to monumental good luck, the west coast came through the war unscathed.

Before the main attack, EMP bombs were used against the United States, rendering almost all electronics useless. The cause of the war was due to a Reagan-esque president giving the go ahead to deploy an orbital missile defense system which freaked out the moribound and perpetually paranoid Andropov-esque Soviet leader. Targets in the Soviet Union weren't really discussed beyond rumors that the Ukraine could no longer produce substantial amounts of grain thanks to the 'purple bombs'.

The war was limited because the EMP attacks on both countries were enough to disrupt the command structure completely and then the first shock of the attacks was enough to make everyone cry uncle.

The rest of the book takes place in 1993, five years after the attack, with the authors taking a cross country road trip to see how the United States was surviving. Visiting the ruins of New York, sneaking into California which was preparing to declare independence, traveling into Atzlan which has already split off from TX/NM/AZ, meeting with the UK/NATO officials giving aid and rebuilding assistance, and traveling through an irradiated midwest where suicide clinics have opened to ease the exit of those with incurable cancers who are denied normal treatment because of long term triage policies.

It's a beautiful book, depressing as hell but with a touch of optimism that America will ultimately recover.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:04 PM on February 25, 2011


A friend and I made a film about "world war iii" when we were in high school. We rounded up some of the cast and had screenings of The Day After first, for "research," and then moved on to Threads. We gathered in the school's media room, and three of us were there for Threads -- and about midway through the film, as the bombs are falling and the initial firestorm was raging, my friend -- whose idea it was for the film and whose idea it was to watch Threads in the first place -- suddenly got up, walked into the next room, and sat down, and stared at the wall, blankly. I watched her a minute, then went out. "Hey -- you okay?"

She shook her head once.

"...You want to stop the movie?"

She shook her head.

"You just want us to leave you here a minute?"

She nodded once.

I just left her there. In a moment she came back.

A month later, as she was editing the film, we had a rogue power outage in school -- and her immediate thought was "HOLY SHIT IT'S AN EMP ATTACK AND THAT MEANS THAT THIS IS THE END AND I'M GOING TO DIE." She said she sat down on the floor hyperventilating for the five minutes it took for the generator to kick in, and that the only reason she hadn't come and found any of us to say goodbye is that she was too panicked to remember where we were.

As for me, Threads gave me nightmares that lasted for TEN YEARS, until 1995.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 PM on February 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


leibniz: "The most depressing thing about Threads is also the least realistic- that in hard times, people stop caring about each other"

You may have missed this recent gem:
In the face of starvation, some families divided, parents turning against children, and children against one another. As the state police, the OGPU, found itself obliged to record, in Soviet Ukraine "Families kill their weakest members, usually children, and use the meat for eating." Countless parents killed and ate their children and then died of starvation later anyway. One mother cooked her son for herself and her daughter. One 6-year-old girl, saved by other relatives last saw her father when he was sharpening a knife to slaughter her. Other combinations were, of course, possible. One family killed their daughter-in-law, and fed her head to the pigs, and roasted the rest of her body."
posted by meehawl at 11:20 PM on February 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


And yeah, in my school the day after Threads there were two groups of kids in the class: the ones who'd seen the film and were speaking in little scared huddles, and the ones who hadn't and were basically frozen out of the huddles asking "What the fuck is going on?"
posted by meehawl at 11:26 PM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the great thing about Threads is how the people and the city look, and are, so very ordinary. They speak like real people. They fret and fuss about normal, everyday things. They're still thinking about their mundane little futures, over the vague undercurrent of increasing worry about... something too big to really deal with. So they carry on. They struggle to put their pathetic little "Protect And Survive" mattresses up.

And then when the first bomb hits they start to crumble, but not entirely. And we, as viewers, start to feel their terror; and the grittiness of the way it's presented makes us think, "What would I do? Would I do that? Would that help?"

And then they hit the city, and us, with the second bomb. This time it's full-on. And that's when you think, "Shit. It wouldn't matter. It's too big. There's nothing any of us could do."

And then the survivors. The youngsters who never knew what life was like before the bomb, who never knew what "civilisation", or health, or community or... anything good and pleasant, were like. And that final bit. God, it's like... "You think we've scared and depressed you enough yet? Here, have this, too."

I remember the aftermath of "Threads" in Britain. It definitely shook people up.
posted by Decani at 1:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


To those of you objecting to my earlier comment, I refer you to dee extrovert's first person account of surviving in Sarajevo.
posted by leibniz at 6:47 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's some cold war era German children's atomic nightmare fuel in book form.
posted by yoHighness at 7:33 AM on February 26, 2011


I watched Threads because Metafilter recommended it to me, unknowingly, while I was on a must-learn-about-apocalypses-so-I-can-be-prepared jaunt through literature and film.

It ended said jaunt, because it highlighted quite clearly to me that the best place to be when the end comes is right in the middle of it because seriously, what's the damn point in surviving?

It has ironically made my life a bit better because now I don't have that nagging doubt in the back of my mind about how I'd cope!
posted by citands at 11:15 AM on February 26, 2011


meehaw, did you notice that the slate article is accompanied by a weight loss ad?
posted by serazin at 12:02 PM on February 26, 2011


> It ended said jaunt, because it highlighted quite clearly to me that the best place to be when the end comes is right in the middle of it because seriously, what's the damn point in surviving?

A friend of mine is a high school English teacher, and last year he assigned The Road to one of his classes. I told him I'd read it and that my reaction was similar to yours; in any true end of the world scenario I'd want to be one of the first to go, preferably vaporized instantly at ground zero. Because if we're talking a societal breakdown to the point where people are eating each other and fighting to the death for canned goods...well, like you say, what's the damn point in surviving? He heartily disagreed, which I suppose is Cormac McCarthy's position..."keeping the flame" or whatever the phrase in the book was.

My own '80s fear-of-nuclear-annihilation story is having a nightmare which ended with my classmates and I huddled under our desks as air raid sirens went off, then waking up in the middle of the night and just about shitting my pants because there was a fire truck or ambulance going by at that moment.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:23 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


leibniz: "To those of you objecting to my earlier comment, I refer you to dee extrovert's first person account of surviving in Sarajevo"

Sarajevo was no Leningrad. Of course, prodromal cannibals in Leningrad had the added, presumably attractive bonus of many thousands of corpses littering the streets, uncollected and well preserved by the freeze.

serazin: "meehaw, did you notice that the slate article is accompanied by a weight loss ad"

Contextual advertising is our era's greatest automated unintentional hilarity generator.
posted by meehawl at 1:50 PM on February 26, 2011


I remember Threads, and I remember years of nuclear-apocalypse nightmares. I never want to watch it again. And I never want to survive any kind of large scale apocalypse.
posted by Joh at 9:07 PM on February 26, 2011


I've seen Grave of the Fireflies, and saw Testament on a friends recommendation, but never saw Threads. I suspect that's a good thing.

I also think there's a question about whether it is ethical to 'keep the flame', when civilization just destroyed itself. What flame are you keeping? Does it deserved to be kept if it had just burned the world to ashes?
posted by Grimgrin at 10:54 PM on February 26, 2011


« Older Yesterday's dramatic simulation involved a Siberia...  |  Jerry Weist - comic and sf/f c... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments