The Day After Terrorized 100 Million Viewers With Vision of Nuclear War
July 12, 2020 7:15 AM   Subscribe

What they watched didn't really qualify as entertainment; Meyer stated he had no desire to make a "good" movie but a deeply affecting public service announcement. "It has Lawrence, Kansas, wiped out in a nuclear war with Russia. It is powerfully done—all $7 mil. worth. It’s very effective & left me greatly depressed. ... My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent and to see there is never a nuclear war." Ronald Reagan, writing in his journal, having seen the movie before it aired on ABC.

The Day After is 37 years old. It is still very powerful. So maybe it's not Capital A Art, it doesn't have Ingmar Bergman at the helm, but it takes us very close to people living in and around Lawrence Kansas, which just happens to have a *lot* of ICBMs underground, in silos, in a line maybe 100 miles long. Which puts a big bullseye on it.

If you want to skip right to the bleak, black horror which you know is coming, here is an excerpt, 8.5 minutes of pure hell raining down on Kansas. In HD. Personally I recommend you don't do that, I think it best to spend time getting to know these people, and watching them preparing (even though there is no possible way that they can prepare) watch them preparing even though they cannot really accept that this is really happening, watch people you can absolutely relate to either die immediately or suffer through an impossibly, horrific nightmare, and their family and/or friends and/or themselves burned and dying from radiation poisoning or god only knows what.

The film-maker chose Lawrence Kansas because they felt -- correctly, as it turned out -- that most people could relate to it. It's a city but it's a small one, drive fifteen minutes or twenty and there are tractors and pick-up trucks and cow-oriented people. The stars and stripes proudly displayed out in front of the house. Salt of the earth. Large screen color TVs in nice, clean, orderly farm houses, shot-guns hanging on the wall, horses and saddles and leather but also can drive a few minutes and you're in the city, and see a movie or eat at a decent restaurant.

It was a huge sensation. The network even presented a post-"game" show of sorts, with an impossibly young Ted Koppel hosting a roundtable discussion of the nuclear threat featuring Carl Sagan, Henry Kissinger and William F. Buckley. Sagan is believed to have coined the term "nuclear winter" on the program, while Secretary of State George Shultz argued the necessity of harboring nuclear weapons to make sure the nation could protect itself.

Point of interest: People who lived in Lawrence and the surrounding area were able to see it screened in theaters. Imagine sitting in a theater watching your town getting destroyed, the people alive perhaps envying the dead. People left those theaters in tears.

~~~~~

Go to your favorite search engine, select "Video" punch up "nuclear war movie" and you will find that there are many links to many horror movies such as The Day After, some as powerful, most of them not as powerful. IMO; YMMV. Of the ones I've seen, I think the most powerful is a 1965 low-budget black and white British movie -- The War Game (here is a tiny excerpt; people post the entire of the movie on youtube, it might last a day or a week and then taken down).

The closest I found to the entire of the movie today is a podcast about the film, which has some scenes from the movie in it, the podcast put up by a British woman who freely admits that she's rather berzerkly obsessed with nuclear war movies, because she saw one when she was three years old and it pretty much blew her right out of her (presumably) British shoes; she talks of how controversial The War Game was when released (very) and how controversial it still is (very). All of the actors were locals, and played free, some really remarkable performances, and being low-budget and somewhat grainy black and white and the actors having authentic British bad teeth plus they talk funny, puts you (or me, anyways) right into that area code long 'bout 1964.

~~~~

If you like Dan Carlin, and even if you don't, in January 2017 he put together a really powerful show, entitled The Destroyer of Worlds. The podcast centers on the Cuban Missal Crisis in 1962. While it was focused on that Capital C Cuban Crisis, Carlin goes long (of *course* he goes long, that's who he is) Carlin goes long discussing the early history of nuclear weaponry and strategies.

In early March 2020 Carlin went back to that well, not nearly as long but really well-done -- Carlin spent an hour interviewing Fred Kaplan, a man who knows -- in depth -- nuclear weaponry and tactics and strategies. Fred Kaplan has spent his whole life around that entire scene, has written a number of books about it all. It's a great show, Carlin at his best. Here is a direct link to the show, what books he used as reference material. From this page you can listen online or download.
posted by dancestoblue (152 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh man, for me the ultimate nuclear horror film is When The Wind Blows.

I saw The Day After when it aired live. It was horrible to endure.

The whole Cold War was one giant pack of paranoid awful. I'm glad it's over. We don't have less horror now, but it's definitely less "the end of humanity" horror than it used to be.
posted by hippybear at 7:25 AM on July 12, 2020 [21 favorites]


I remember when this aired, it made one hell of an impression on me. As an early teen I definitely had a background anxiety about nuclear war, it seemed like it was a very real possibility. We must have watched this as a family, but I have no memory of my family actually discussing it.

If the goal of the film was to scare the crap out of people, mission accomplished.
posted by jzb at 7:33 AM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


Man... those were the good old days. Imagine dying instantly in a flash of light with no idea it's coming and without months of stupidity and suffering beforehand.

How quaint.
posted by bondcliff at 7:44 AM on July 12, 2020 [91 favorites]


We watched The Day After in my 8th grade social studies class circa 2001 and it terrorized me then as well. (We then discussed what we do as survivors of a nuclear attack. In retrospect it was an odd lesson plan.)

I was sheltered from a lot of TV and scary movies growing up so I always felt like an oversensitive weirdo for letting it get to me so much. It was very validating a few years ago when I found out that it had a reputation for traumatizing an entire generation.
posted by geegollygosh at 7:44 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


Nicholas Meyer has had such a weird jumble of a career. From his Sherlock Holmes mash-up novels in the 70s to the Star Trek movies to this movie to being the show-runner for the Medici series and lots of other stuff.
posted by octothorpe at 7:46 AM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


I know we have had other posts about this movie. It gave me many nightmares.

And yeah you hoped to be the one gone instantly... it's surviving only to die horribly and in pain that was the worst fear.

I can't search easily on my phone, but there was a post about the British series Threads, which was apparently even darker, that talked about these types of movies in detail.
posted by emjaybee at 7:47 AM on July 12, 2020 [15 favorites]


For other apocalyptic mini-series fare, there was also The Fire Next Time, about global warming and collapsing eco systems. Made in the 90s, set in... uh... 2017.

Shit.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:01 AM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


Special Bulletin was good, a War of the Worlds-style "live broadcast" of a nuclear terrorist event. Subsequent airings were less effective, since they decided to add frequent disclaimers to the film, reminding the viewer that "it's just a show", which takes you out of the immediacy of the narrative.
posted by SPrintF at 8:06 AM on July 12, 2020 [11 favorites]


I was 8 years old when this movie premiered and I remember it was a BIG deal. My school sent a special letter home to parents recommending we only watch it together as a family and that counselors would be available for extra assistance.

Years later, I went to college at KU in Lawrence, Kansas. It was surreal to walk around familiar landmarks that I “knew” had been wiped out.

The shot that still chills me to this day is the end in the gym. When it zooms out and you see the masses of suffering humanity ... I shudder to think about it even now.
posted by zooropa at 8:12 AM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


Don't forget Threads.
posted by Paul Slade at 8:20 AM on July 12, 2020 [37 favorites]


I was 10 in 1987. My parents comforted me by saying because we lived so close to Philadelphia, we'd be immediately dead and wouldn't suffer. The schools also helpfully showed clips of this in class whenever the Cold War was brought up.

As an adult, we notice different things and so today I had to quit the video after seeing the red plaid fabric being trampled.

*glances at the clonazepam bottle*
posted by kimberussell at 8:24 AM on July 12, 2020 [7 favorites]


I haven't seen this, but among people I know who have, it's up there with Threads (which I also haven't seen) as one of those films they never want to see again because it's too bleak. I'll get around to watching one or both of them some day when I'm fractionally less pessimistic about outcomes for our species and need to be reminded that just because the Cold War is over, it doesn't mean nuclear annihilation no longer hangs over our heads. (If that effectively perpetual threat has slipped your mind lately, read Jeffrey Lewis' The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States for a refresher.)

I didn't know this was set in Lawrence, Kansas, which means William S. Burroughs would've been among the victims in 1983.
posted by heteronym at 8:25 AM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


The bit in Special Bulletin that stood out for me was the part at the very end as the credits scrolled by: the news anchor finishes a follow-up story set days (weeks?) later around the refugees and aftermath of the nuclear incident....then segues to "And in other news...". IAt that point, everyone's micro-attention span moves on to something else. It was a nice, sarcastic shot at the news media specifically and at culture in general.
posted by gimonca at 8:26 AM on July 12, 2020 [7 favorites]




Two men standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:41 AM on July 12, 2020 [32 favorites]


yeah as a gen-xer, nuclear war used to scare me, but dying instantly in a flash of light seems downright jolly compared to what's in store for us.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2020 [13 favorites]


The whole Cold War was one giant pack of paranoid awful. I'm glad it's over. We don't have less horror now, but it's definitely less "the end of humanity" horror than it used to be.--hippybear

What scares me is that this horror is still here, but we don't treat it seriously anymore. Every two-bit country is trying to get nuclear weapons so other countries will take them seriously If anything, I think it i worse now, especially because people aren't as afraid as they used to be. Maybe the whole world won't end at once now. It will just be a few million deaths at a time.
posted by eye of newt at 8:44 AM on July 12, 2020 [19 favorites]


About everyone in the gym — I remember an anecdote from this 20th anniversary article that filmmakers asked the extras not to bathe for a few days before filming. Imagine the smell in Allen Fieldhouse.
posted by rewil at 8:50 AM on July 12, 2020


Possibly worth mentioning that one of the macro plot points in The Fire Next Time was Canada closing its border with the United States, due to the mounting problems on the U.S. side of the border.
posted by gimonca at 8:50 AM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


I remember my Mom made we watch it in the same room as her, because she was afraid I would be traumatized.

I was... there is a strange Gen-X thing about simultaneously understanding how imminent nuclear annihilation was, and a sense of... “Oh well, school still sucks and the baseball team are all douchebags. College will be better. If we live that long.”

There was a normalcy about it. Nuclear obliteration, nuclear winter, the last of humanity going out as cannibals before we reach extinction, Australia not getting a vote and just waiting for their turn to die off from radiation poisoning as they watch from the sidelines. This was the zeitgeist.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:50 AM on July 12, 2020 [26 favorites]


Yeah, I almost miss it. You had the one enemy, the old CCCP, and you understood that that the Russians loved their children too but the generals did not, and it could happen at any time. I lived three or four hours away from the nearest city big enough to bomb, and so I did not know what to think of my chances.

They were not diagnosing kids with OCD or anxiety disorders back in the '80s, but if they were, it might have been a tipoff that I needed to have the TV on at night to make sure I would hear about it if we were all going to die. Hell, I was all of sixteen years old when I suddenly froze in fear in my room listening to a strange loud roaring sound and being sure that it was now. (It was something to do with the power plant. I never did learn. Nobody else had noticed in the slightest.) If I ever spent the night with relatives where there was no cable and nothing on the air all night, it was a hell of a thing trying to sleep.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:51 AM on July 12, 2020 [12 favorites]


About 15 years ago I was an undergrad in engineering and I was taking the heat transfer class. That was the first time I really got into exactly how stuff works with radiation. I started to wonder how "really bright light" could actually vaporize people and destroy whole cities in seconds.

I found the film "Threads" which is set in the UK and even more horrifying than the American version--the survivors are reduced to a Middle Ages quality of life but also with cataracts and skin cancer for everyone. That film was terrifying and left me shaken for a long time and I still think of it now and then.

Finding this stuff out and thinking about it actually makes me hope that if this were to occur that I would be one of the vaporized people, which is probably one of the worst thoughts to have about this sort of thing because no one hopes for death.

I'm very glad that the Cold War is in the past. Covid and how people have responded this year has made me a whole lot less optimistic in general.

In the last year or two I found out that scientists across the world like Carl Sagan realized in the late 70s and early 80s that if there were nuclear war, it'd stir up enough dust and change the chemistry in the atmosphere that nuclear war would basically be killing the planet. That case coming from all over the world was compelling enough that it actually got the politicians to back down and make agreements to cool off the Cold War. It's like previously, the thinking was only Dr. Strangelove-esque--that we could wipe out the Soviets with the expense being only whatever cities of ours they'd happen to get, and just a few 10's of millions of Americans.
posted by Blue Tsunami at 8:52 AM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


I remember the horny couple who ran inside to go fuck rather than worry about nuclear obliteration died quickly in the atomic hellfire.

They seemed to have the smart plan. All those hunker-in-the-bunker folk didn’t really think things through.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2020 [8 favorites]


man, remember when politicians listened to scientists

remember when the president, despite being a racist, homophobic Republican, actually worried about the fate of the country

the '80s were a bad time but truly is it said: you don't know what you've got till it's gone
posted by Countess Elena at 8:57 AM on July 12, 2020 [37 favorites]


Finding this stuff out and thinking about it actually makes me hope that if this were to occur that I would be one of the vaporized people, which is probably one of the worst thoughts to have about this sort of thing because no one hopes for death.

This was literally a line of thought during the whole mess. At least in corners of the US. I was an exchange student in (then West) Germany in the late 80s and Reagan was trying to install antiballistic missiles as a shield against USSR threats, and I was being grilled (at 18) about US nuclear foreign policy and I had no knowledge and no answers other than what I had heard on NPR. It was intense and strange.

Also, I visited the East-West German border at one point, and talk about the Cold War made literal. 100 meters of cleared land with fences and land mines and East German guard towers taking photos of everyone who visited... It's what I think about every time Trump mentions a Border Wall.
posted by hippybear at 8:58 AM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


My parents comforted me by saying because we lived so close to Philadelphia, we'd be immediately dead and wouldn't suffer.

It used to be a bragging point for many small cities and towns that “Russia had nukes aimed at our town.” The implication being that our little nowhere town was, in fact, important enough to be vaporized in a nuclear war.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:59 AM on July 12, 2020 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I lived close to White Sands Missile Range growing up, and even in elementary school there was playground discussion about how we'd be amongst the first to be vaporized and that was somehow a happy thought.
posted by hippybear at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


Countess Elena: “Don’t know what you’re got till it’s gone

Facts.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:01 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


I lived in Homestead, FL at the time. We had a nuke plant AND one of the most important Air Force bases, AND a significant Naval presence. We watched it with giddy laughter, knowing we probably wouldn't even hear the air raid sirens before we died and went back to the business of being racist as fuck. We had Puerto Ricans, Cubans AND Blacks to oppress, very busy as white folk in the 80s.

( Personally have grown significantly since then, though. )
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:02 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


Of the ones I've seen, I think the most powerful is a 1965 low-budget black and white British movie -- The War Game (here is a tiny excerpt; people post the entire of the movie on youtube, it might last a day or a week and then taken down).

A 720x544 DivX DVD rip with an info hash of 43d76a3c548c57eb81caa0ad0e69edec80e690d3 is available via BitTorrent.
posted by flabdablet at 9:06 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


As I remember it, things changed a lot after that movie. We made some real progress on ratcheting down the tension and moving towards reductions. A lot of people changed their minds about the necessity of fighting the "commies".

I've often wished someone could make a climate crisis movie that was the equivalent of The Day After. One that would change the minds of those whose minds could still be changed. One that reached people on an emotional and visceral level.
posted by kaymac at 9:07 AM on July 12, 2020 [11 favorites]


I grew up on SAC USAF bases - the threat of nuclear war was just ambient background noise to my life. I don't remember ever stressing or worrying about it. I saw The Day After on Armed Forces Television, probably several weeks after the original broadcast, while living in the Marshall Islands, where my dad was working on Reagan's Star Wars missile shield program.
posted by COD at 9:08 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


I saw The Day After on Japanese television, after reading Hiroshima on my own. I didn't see the reactions of the atomic bomb survivors, but by that point I didn't need to. I remain shocked to this day about how anyone could treat nuclear weaponry cavalierly, and yet they do. (Cf using them as "bunker busters" or to break up hurricanes. Seriously? What is wrong with people?)
posted by Soliloquy at 9:11 AM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


I was fifteen. Though no one required it of me (or anyone else that I know of), everyone watched The Day After like it was mandatory. I was so terrified of nuclear war at that age and endured this movie with an insane amount of stress and dread that I kept completely to myself. I remember just having 'to get through it' in my mind. I don't even know what to compare that feeling to today. I wonder sometimes what life would have been like for kids my age without the threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads (and the threat of AIDS, that too).
posted by marimeko at 9:13 AM on July 12, 2020 [9 favorites]


Right, AIDS.

If we weren’t obliterated by nuclear war, all the free-sex-and-hedonism points were already spent in the 70s, nothing left for us when we came out of puberty.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:31 AM on July 12, 2020 [14 favorites]


I saw the Day After as a kid, while I can understand the anxiety inducing from it, it didn't have that effect on me. I think how it is shot reminded me a lot of 80s TV of the time which I think took me out of the film. I half expected Kitt or the A-Team to save people. For me, Threads is the one that messed me up - that one felt so much realer then the Day After to me. Threads still fills me with a lot of dread and nightmares. I'm glad someone mentioned Peter Watkins' The War Game above. Watkins is actually a very interesting director and well worth seeking out; his films are a very unique blend of documentary and fiction. Really compelling stuff. A related film, though different then the War Game, is his the Gladiators.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:32 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


I can believe how young I was when I watched this movie’s initial broadcast. I can’t believe the inescapable ambient background anxiety and dread of the Cold War, that two generations grew up with, but my children have never known. I can’t believe the entirely different set of knowledge and fears that my children’s generation takes for granted, having never known otherwise.
posted by Songdog at 9:35 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


I saw it as a kid when it came out. I don't remember it as traumatizing; maybe we were just too young to really get it but I remember us mostly shrugging and making some jokes. Watching the 8.5 minute excerpt linked above, it is interesting how I remember some pieces clearly (like the flashes of skeletons) but not others. I had remembered the missile scenes as showing the contrails of incoming missiles, not outgoing, for example.

We watched The Day After in my 8th grade social studies class circa 2001 and it terrorized me then as well. (We then discussed what we do as survivors of a nuclear attack. In retrospect it was an odd lesson plan.)

That was fairly normal curriculum at one point; we did the same thing in 5th grade, including watching that old 1950s Duck and Cover film and practicing climbing under our desks. I can't remember if we watched the entire Day After movie in class or just some highlights.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:36 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


the actors having authentic British bad teeth plus they talk funny, puts you (or me, anyways) right into that area code long 'bout 1964.

I...this is just your regularly scheduled reminder that some of us funny-talking British people with our authentic bad teeth are right here.
posted by BlueNorther at 9:44 AM on July 12, 2020 [49 favorites]


the thinking was only Dr. Strangelove-esque--that we could wipe out the Soviets with the expense being only whatever cities of ours they'd happen to get, and just a few 10's of millions of Americans.

I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, Mr. President.

I can now see how Buck Turgidson prefigured Stephen Miller in the role of presidential adviser.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:46 AM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


This film, more than anything, ended the cold war. After this aired, anti-soviet/anti-communist vitriol just...deflated. The arms treaty signed as a result has led to there being about 1/5 as many nuclear weapons in the world today.

I remember being told at the time that it aired simultaneously in the Soviet Union...was this true? When I visited in '89 everyone I talked to there had definitely seen it...but I'm unsure whether that was smuggled vhs copies or what. Either way, it made a big impact there too.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:51 AM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


Following the broadcast, our teacher asked us to write an essay about our feelings about the film. I honestly don't remember what I wrote, but for some reason she interpreted my nihilism as a lack of fear.

I may have written about this on the blue before, but there was a certain pride in that era about being a primary target. Discussions with people during that time would list all the assets in a city ("We've got a bunch of Rockwell Collins facilities", "That's nothing, there's an Air Force base here") as an indicator of where it was on The List.

This article hit my Firefox homepage yesterday as well, and I ended up watching the film. Two things struck me that I don't think I realized before:
  • Jason Robards' character is way older of a protagonist than you could ever have for a film now
  • How much the makers of Fallout 3 cribbed from the film for level design
The end tag about how "This is probably more hopeful than the after-effects of a war would be" reminds me of the last line of Schlosser's book Command and Control about nuclear weapons. "They're still out there. They're ready to go at a moment's notice."

Being Gen-X prepared me for a quick end at the hands of Reagan or Bush. It never really prepared me for a slow, bloody crash into environmental collapse and pandemics, which we've screamed about for decades.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:53 AM on July 12, 2020 [12 favorites]


I was twenty years old when this came out and I don't know how or why but my memory is that the college I was going to showed it in some sort of common room so a lot of us watched it together. I remember being slightly annoyed and bored and thought my classmates were somewhere on the Hick scale that they would be upset about it. Growing up in the big city I remember books in my school library about nuclear war, books with red circles laid over Manhattan, the Bronx, Yonkers up into Westchester; circles of death and immolation. As a child riding in the back seat, returning to the city from somewhere upstate I would always look at autumns evening sky and wonder/imagine if they could be the clouds of nuclear war, how we were lost with nowhere to go and when would the traffic chaos ripple upwards and enfold us in its madness of blows exchanged with ersatz weapons. It was entirely clear to me that the fallout shelter signs all over were a cynical joke everyone participated in, a wink at the repressed and authoritarian 50's, a satire of McCarthyism and its voluble adult lying . I despised my classmates and their gasps and quiet weeping.

The end of the show I remember as being the sound of a shotgun blast killing off the last hope/protector of a vulnerable family. The rising of the predatory, pragmatic, violent and not giving a shit ethos unleashed by the collapse of pious morality in nuclear fire and rain. I was actively angry at the end. I thought it was exploitative hand wringing bullshit and I was surrounded by suckers living in a dreamworld. How did they not know what people given a chance will do to each other? How did they not see the violence and capacity for evil inside them own selves?
posted by Pembquist at 9:53 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


Around that time was the documentary short of Dr. Helen Caldecott's lecture "If You Love This Planet." Good times, good times.
posted by stevil at 10:03 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


I was in middle school when The Day After came out. My parents channelled our collective anxieties by attending Bread not Bombs demonstrations.

Also, a few years later when the Challenger exploded, I was sitting in class when there was a knock at the door. A note was passed to my Spanish teacher and I knew immediately this is it! The bombs were coming.
posted by Arctostaphylos at 10:08 AM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


This made for an interesting episode of The Americans.

I do find it interesting how prevalent “disaster/invasion wipes out chunk of the US” stories are in American culture, post WWII (or maybe since War of the Worlds?). Maybe that’s true of all cultures? Also interesting how little engagement there is with the fact that we are the ones who did this to another country. I wonder about the impression Nagasaki and Hiroshima made on a generation of Americans who were children at that time, and whether there’s a sense of fear, curiosity, and indelible memory there driving some of the “what if it happened here” stuff.
posted by sallybrown at 10:09 AM on July 12, 2020 [7 favorites]


I will now go watch this.

I recently found out about Threads about 6 months ago. I was skeptical of it living up to its reputation (of being intense and terrifying). I sat down to watch it and can honestly say I’ve never had a more viscerally horrifying movie experience, and maybe, life experience?

Another nuclear movie I missed and recently watched was Testament. It has a very different energy, one of more abject sadness, and yet I would still recommend it.
posted by Kemma80 at 10:12 AM on July 12, 2020 [13 favorites]


ayep. I was 15. its fascinating how much the threat landscape has shifted since then. sort of tempted to watch this again...I don't know why.
posted by supermedusa at 10:44 AM on July 12, 2020


I remember being told at the time that it aired simultaneously in the Soviet Union...was this true?

I don't know about the Soviet Union but I saw it in Poland on the tv when it was fresh. The government apparently thought this will make us hate NATO or something. It didn't work. What it did instead was to emphasize the senselessness of the cold war.
posted by hat_eater at 10:45 AM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


omg I just remembered 8th grade drills where we'd have to go out in the hallway and line up against the lockers and all the kids would joke about how we'd melt into the metal when the bombs hit.
posted by supermedusa at 10:46 AM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


The Day After?

I was 16 when it came out, and living in daily fear of nuclear war. For a teenager I read a lot of politics and science fiction, so I was already immersed in apocalypse. There was a ton of print explorations of atomic war available at that time, both fiction and non-. Fate of the Earth (Jonathan Schell, 1982) made a big impression on me. I remember reading Alas, Babylon (Pat Frank, 1959) and being disappointed because the destruction depicted was so watered down.

Around this time a friend and I pored over a public document - DoD? CIA? - that purported to list Soviet missile targets. The closest one was 5 minutes from my home. We drove past it daily, a gigantic truck factory that also churned out tank engines. Several other targeted cities were within an hour, like Detroit.

So we doomy teens had a full mental landscape in place, from the geopolitical and accidental wars WWIII could start to the patterns of nuclear "exchange" to fallout plumes, burns, nuclear winter, the works.

The Day After didn't impress me too much at the time, because most of it was stuff I knew, and I wasn't in the headspace then to appreciate its pedagogical potential.

Around a year later I saw Threads in a theater, and that made a stronger impression. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the lower budget made my imagination work harder. Or because the end went farther in time and despair.
posted by doctornemo at 10:49 AM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


man, remember when politicians listened to scientists

Sounds great until you remember that Edward Teller was the kind of scientist they were listening to.
posted by nickmark at 10:55 AM on July 12, 2020 [19 favorites]


I was born in 79 and so missed I think just about all of the actual drill stuff and core nuclear bunker vibe; I grew up knowing about the cold war, about nuclear missiles, about Russia and fallout shelters, and having the sense of that being very meaningful to my parents, but I was young enough (and my parents had boundaries enough) that it was an abstract thing for me, with the 80s marching along through my grade school years.

I remember being shocked by the jump scare nuclear explosion dream in Matinee, but my parents being more affected by the overall nuclear worry in the film as an actual callback to something approximating their experiences growing up.

I've still never seen either The Day After or Threads; both feel like films I should watch at some point, though it's also hard to get enthusiastic about stuff people discuss widely in terms of the trauma it inflicted on them. I was introduced by a friend in high school to the 1982 film The Atomic Cafe which was as I recall two decades and change later entirely a montage of existing government footage and propaganda and such as an almost dada meditation on the Cold War and nuclear brinksmanship. I should give it another watch some time.
posted by cortex at 10:59 AM on July 12, 2020 [9 favorites]


I was a "Cold War" era (U.S.) kid. One of my earlier memories is of something being up during the Cuban Missile Crisis (we were living on a U.S. Air Force base at the time). Since my father was in the Civil Service working with the military, we were not unaware of (though did not know the details) of "Broken Arrow" incidents (check out January 24, 1961). We did "duck and cover" drills in school, and there was a large fallout shelter in the park near our house.

In school in the 60s and 70s, we learned about the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and I remember some pretty heated debates about the ethics of dropping those bombs, and getting some pretty detailed information about the radiation effects. Fear of the bomb and of radiation was something we were definitely aware of and lived with, at least if you grew up as I did in a house full of Democrats. So, I was old enough when The Day After came out that it did not affect me as strongly as the "after" photos of Hiroshima had, the photos of the ruins and the people. Those were nightmare fuel for a while when I was a kid. Also, the movie that I grew up with, and affected me strongly, was On The Beach (despite its flaws).

Don't get me wrong, I was not sorry they made The Day After though, and that it had a wide effect.

I remember having a conversation in 1980 with a guy who had been in the military and had been stationed in a missile silo in the Midwest for a while, and him telling me how both tedious and terrifying that duty was.
posted by gudrun at 11:03 AM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


I had nightmares so bad after seeing it that I went to see my school counselor. He was a total dismissive dick about it and just made the whole thing worse.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:12 AM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


When I was growing up there were only two movies I wasn't allowed to see, The Day After and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

A few years ago, I finally saw The Day After when I stumbled onto it on YouTube.

I don't think I'm ever going to watch Temple of Doom.
posted by Mchelly at 11:14 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


My dad was a Brilliant Scientist and as a kid I used to depend on him for the facts-- were aliens real? Were ghosts? Was there really something in the closet? And he would always reassure me with facts. I remember asking him about nuclear war and whether it would really happen and really be bad even if we hid under our desks etc and I just remember him being very quiet, and cleaning his glasses, and telling me everything would be ok, but he didn't explain why, which was unusual for him.
posted by The otter lady at 11:37 AM on July 12, 2020 [19 favorites]


I watched a poor quality rip of Threads on youtube and it still scared the crap out of me.

I remember the first time I saw The Day After as a kid, for several days after when I would go to sleep i would think, "the missiles could be coming right now." And that wasn't 1983, that was more like 1995.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:40 AM on July 12, 2020


Yeah, I was 12, and my parents wouldn't let us watch The Day After, but I think afterwards they realized what a shift it had made in the cultural conversation and we watched Testament on PBS. As a kid I was already convinced nuclear war would end the world. We caught a lucky break for a while there, but I'm pretty much back to the same mindset as I was 35 years ago now. I try not to express it in front of my 17-year-old because I do hope he gets to live a full life without having to shoot rats to survive.
posted by rikschell at 11:46 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


"Also interesting how little engagement there is with the fact that we are the ones who did this to another country."

It's a prime example of Americans being very self-servingly selective with the history we're taught and which exists in our cultural consciousness. Every society does this, of course, but only one in the history of this planet has been a global hegemon that preens about its supposed moral virtue being exemplary.

Lately, we're pleased to topple monuments to white supremacy — frankly, a very low bar to clear — but there is no willingness to admit and atone for these vast war crimes within living memory: the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Post-war American literature and media is filled with imaginings of the devastation of nuclear war yet nearly devoid of the accounts from actual survivors (hibakusha) of the only two uses of such weapons. Many of these accounts are horrifying and unforgettable, such as this from Yoshitoshi Fukahori who survived Nagasaki:
Mr. Fukahori was 16 and had been conscripted to work in a government office. When the bomb dropped, he dove under a desk. “It was such a loud sound and like lightning, so bright,” he said. “All the air came out of the room.”

The night of Aug. 9 he tried to get home, but the main road through the center of town was on fire. On an alternate route through the mountains, he encountered other victims trying to escape, their clothes in tatters and their heads covered in black ash. A woman clung to his leg, begging for water. When Mr. Fukahori reached down to grab her arm, her skin came off in strips.
As a Gen-Xer, like others here I recall the airing of The Day After and I grew up with frequent nightmares of mushroom clouds on the horizon. I'm also very familiar with the history of the development of the atomic bomb. It wasn't until my thirties that I finally read many of the accounts of hibakusha, when two bombs of merely 15-20 kilotons each produced devastation and misery on a grand scale. One must ask: if we're looking for cautionary tales of nuclear holocaust, why would we conjure them from imagination rather than present the lived experiences of those who were there?

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan: Testimony of Hibakusha.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:49 AM on July 12, 2020 [38 favorites]


A few years ago, Netflixing late at night I came across How I Live Now (2013) (with Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland) which did a very good job of describing the confusion, rumors, terror and chaos in the aftermath of a small nuclear event, when nobody knows what happened or what's going on or who to trust or where to go to be safe. It was pretty unnerving for a small film with only a few characters and no big destruction scenes.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:52 AM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


I was born a few months before the fall of the Berlin wall and for whatever reason must have as a baby sort of sponged up all the released anxiety despite being an ostensibly safe 90s post-cold-war child. I had nightmares all the time about flashes of light and trying to run away. We had to read a horrible book called "Z is for Zephaniah" about a post-nuclear world, had copies of "When The Wind Blows" in our primary school classroom, and I just recall this absolute terror of nuclear bombs just almost destroying me. I don't know when I lost it. I want to watch these movies now, I'll be interested in how safe ("safe"), millennial, adult me will react.

TWinbrook8- How I Live Now was first a fantastic YA novel! Definitely worth reading.
posted by Balthamos at 12:05 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


Just to remind people of the immediate context of that year:

September 1, 1983: Korean Air 007 is shot down.

September 26, 1983: Soviet air defense early-warning system malfunctions, escalation to war is stopped by Col. Stanislav Petrov.

November 7, 1983: NATO exercises in Europe code-named Able Archer 83 lead to Soviet forces being put on high alert.

November 20, 1983: "The Day After" broadcast on ABC.
posted by gimonca at 12:08 PM on July 12, 2020 [25 favorites]


Don't pine for the 80s...huge anti-labor shift in the destruction of public unions, HIV was so new and scary we called it GRIDS, Reagan shifted the entire budget of the country to the military-industrial complex - creating a middle-class jobs program - whose greed (pork anyone?), waste, incompetence, and malfeasance persist today. And we had horrifying films reminding us as children, how we might die soon because our parents kept electing crazy people.

A certain fraction of us grew up pre-defeated in life, hopeless and with a never-absent background dread.

And I had to walk miles in the snow.

Not saying today isn't shitty and awful, mind you.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:25 PM on July 12, 2020 [18 favorites]


I watch and rewatch "The Day After" constantly, it's one of those movies that has a weird appeal to me. Even the retro-quality to it adds to how disturbing it is, it's like watching a milquetoast 80's drama suddenly transform into a nuclear hellscape.

I watched "Threads" once and never again. Maybe the most disturbing film I've ever seen because it seems closer to realty. At the end of "The Day After," they announce that the movie isn't true to life because the consequences will likely be far worse. "Threads" feels more real.

Or as TheeObscure on Twitter puts it: "Threads: How to Survive a Nuclear War and Why You Shouldn't"
posted by HunterFelt at 12:37 PM on July 12, 2020 [11 favorites]


Grave of the Fireflies originally came on a double-bill with My Neighbor Totoro. But perhaps it should have been with Threads instead. With a pitcher of vodka chaser.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:44 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


Never saw it all the way through. In the late '80s, one of my 7th grade teachers ("medical careers," if I remember correctly) was an Air Force vet and decided we all had to see it. I mentioned something about being bothered about it to my science teacher--whose son was a Navy submarine nuke tech--and he got me out of class. Gave me a bunch of simple clerical chores instead.

I remember them having an argument outside the classroom about whether or not I had to see it.

I don't remember whether my mom had to get involved because it was probably resolved before that, but I distinctly remember having the "My mom was stationed at SAC Headquarters and literally wrote these plans and she's fine with me not seeing this movie" as a card in my pocket. It's not like I hadn't had serious discussions about this with someone who knew what she was talking about.

The thing is, I've generally been fine with confronting disasters and atrocities in a real-life context. I've got a history degree. Enlisted. This sort of stuff is troubling and haunting IRL but wow I'm so much more capable of dealing with it when it doesn't come with scary mood music and editing and scripting.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:20 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


I stumbled across “Threads” on PBS in the late 80s. Let me tell you, it made an impression.
posted by wintermind at 1:21 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


I was 12. Didn't even have to watch it to be traumatized, the preview ads constantly shown already had the greatest hits: panic, people burning in the firestorm, survivors slowly rotting away in a hellscape. But the worst for me were the skeleton flashes. Lasted only a fraction of a second, but they kept printing those goddamn skeletons in all the subsequent magazine articles about the movie and the invevitable upcoming war.

In restrospect, no one cares enough about South America to nuke us. But the talk at the time was "enough bombs to fry the whole planet multiple times". Also, grandpa and grandma lived in Poland, that didn't help.

And yeah, it sure is Capital A art. Take all the art that came out after WW1; dadaism, german expressionism, etc. Art dealing with the angst of war. Same here.
posted by Tom-B at 1:33 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


interesting how little engagement there is with the fact that we are the ones who did this to another country. I wonder about the impression Nagasaki and Hiroshima made on a generation of Americans

Every time I see that Reagan diary entry, I scream in my head "You stupid inhuman motherfucker, you narrated goddamn propaganda about the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 and who knows what the hell you were privy to both then and as president, it took you 38 years and Steve Guttenberg to realize nuclear war is bad?!?"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:42 PM on July 12, 2020 [16 favorites]


I was 17 in 1983 and somehow we didn’t watch The Day After. I did watch Testament the same year. That was a much smaller story of a family who lives in the suburbs of a city that is nuked (I think San Francisco?). The wife has no idea if her husband is alive and she watches her children get sick and die from the radiation poisoning.

The trailer’s here.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:46 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]



A certain fraction of us grew up pre-defeated in life, hopeless and with a never-absent background dread


I’ve never heard it expressed better.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:50 PM on July 12, 2020 [24 favorites]


Jason Robards' character is way older of a protagonist than you could ever have for a film now

People aged differently then. Robards was sixty when it was made; the same age that Val Kilmer and Hugo Weaving and Kristin Scott Thomas are today.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:51 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


I was born in 1976 so I was too young to have seen this when it was first aired. In fact I didn't know it existed until I saw that episode of The Americans. With that said, my nightmares in the early to mid-80s were often about nuclear war (and everyone getting AIDS).
posted by mmascolino at 1:54 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


Testament is like a Steven Speilberg movie gone horribly, horribly wrong.
posted by pxe2000 at 1:55 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


Oh, and talking about art – I didn't see anyone mentioning Barefoot Gen in this thread, a manga (and anime) by Keiji Nakazawa, a Hiroshima survivor, so here it goes.
posted by Tom-B at 1:58 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


Saw it in school...watching those missiles go up and how it meant the end of everything...I think that was the first time I really appreciated how people could destroy things, big things, to meet their own petty political ends and there was really not much average citizens could do about it. How powerless we all were, really.

By the late Cold War, the prevailing public attitude to my recollection was that when the sirens went off we would go downtown and watch the missiles come in because you didn't want to live any longer than that first set of strikes.

And the world isn't that different, really. Sure the missiles are de-targeted (at least they said they are). But they can be re-targeted, quickly.

BTW, "Miracle Mile" is a deeply underappreciated movie on this topic. Save the snark about clothes and music and appreciate that movies like that and The Day After would be the only view most people got of the apocalypse.

Also, fun fact, the day of the launches is Saturday, September 16, 1983. So calculate your point of divergence from there.
posted by lon_star at 2:03 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


And of course the conservative reaction was to come up with their own miniseries presenting the case for why we must risk such horrors. None other than Ben Stein suggested there should be such a thing after The Day After aired, and eventually ABC presented the other side of the coin, the execrable, deeply embarrassing Amerika.

It didn't really work out like they'd hoped.
posted by Naberius at 2:56 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


amerika

ha, i'd forgotten about this... but how does blue thunder figure into it?
posted by entropicamericana at 3:06 PM on July 12, 2020


I remember the horny couple who ran inside to go fuck rather than worry about nuclear obliteration died quickly in the atomic hellfire.

I was 8 when I saw this in 1983. I am 45 now I have a 7-year-old son. I just watched it again after reading this thread.

What got me about that scene was how awful that couple were. They leave to go enjoy each other’s company one last time while leaving their children ALONE to watch the news on TV. You see their son — who is roughly the age of my son — spellbound by what he’s watching on TV.

Maybe it hits you differently if you’re a parent. I don’t know. Now, excuse me, I need to go throw up.
posted by zooropa at 3:07 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


Just popping in to check on people's sense memory for specific sounds.
One effect used in the 1964 Henry Fonda film version was so memorable they re-used it for the 2000 Richard Dreyfus live broadcast teleplay.
"Mr. President, the final sound you'll hear is the ambassador's telephone, melting from the heat of the fireball."
posted by bartleby at 3:08 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


I was born in 1976 so I was too young to have seen this when it was first aired.

mmascolino, I was born in 76, and all I can say is our parents had very different policies on what we could watch. Pretty sure I saw this when it aired. I guess what I’m saying is I kind of envy you.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:46 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I was also way below the target age. Sometimes I wish my parents had attempted maybe a bit of curation over what I watched or read.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:03 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


My childhood was soaked in the apocalypse. Went to an evangelical church and attended a horrendous Independent Fundamentalist Baptist school. Revelations and the End of the World was a regular subject. The apocalyptic film series Thief in the Night was shown regularly. Often leaving all the kids in tears and nightmares.

In Little Rock, we talked, even at age 10, about how the Air Force Base was going to ensure our doom. Also at age 10, I remember the Damascus missile exploding. Just 20 miles or so up the road from my house. We used to drive past the silo on the way to see Aunt Gloria. I was 11 when Reagan took office. Was starting to pay attention to the news around a year later. Even before The Day After aired, it was a kinda nerve wracking time. He was aggressively pushing into multiple areas. "Tweaking the Bear" as he or someone in his administration said. At one point he used "the missiles are on their way!" as a punchline to a joke. I used to think it was going to be any day now.

My science teacher Mom used to keep food and water in a basement closet. Would talk to me about how we would have to live in that basement for weeks until the radiation subsumed. But even with all her plans and checklists, she couldn't imagine what we'd do after that. "Plant a garden?" she hoped.

Then came the movies. I watched all of them. The Day After. Threads. Testament. Even the Mad Max movies somehow filtered into the noise. There were the books. I particularly remember a book called "Warday" which was an interesting bit of meta fiction. The two authors imagined their lives a few years after a limited nuclear war. Gave an autobiographical account of traveling the country to see what impact it had on everyone. Was a kinda crushing read on what was lost.

All of that added up to give me some tremendous nihilism. Talking to others who spent their childhoods in the evangelical fever swamps, it's a very common experience. Wall-to-wall apocalypse.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 4:07 PM on July 12, 2020 [15 favorites]


Related in a lesser way, as it deals with nuclear terrorism, was 1983's Special Bulletin.

Taking place in real-time as a "special report" from a fictional TV station's news team, it tells of a homemade atomic bomb brought aboard a tugboat in Charleston, South Carolina by a terrorist group in order to blackmail the U.S. government into dismantling its nuclear weapons.

The film was shot on videotape to capture the look of an actual TV news broadcast. The filmmakers were required to include on-screen disclaimers at the beginning and end of every commercial break in order to assure viewers that the events were a dramatization. The word "dramatization" also appeared on the screen during key moments of the original broadcast.

It won the Emmy award for Outstanding Mini-Series or Movie.

If you want to skip to the fireworks, here you go...
posted by Quasimike at 4:20 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


Sometimes I wish my parents had attempted maybe a bit of curation over what I watched or read

It's a weird balance. Being born at the tail end of Gen X, the fact that my mother let me watch just about whatever means I was always able to take part in the exchange of references that was essentially what passed for our culture, by way of being allowed to stay up late to watch Miami Vice, Letterman, or whatever, even when I was in elementary school. Would I have benefited from more structure in my life? Oh, hell yes, the utterly unorganized 40 something version of me would tell you.

Looking at the timeline of events posted up thread, I wonder how much having seen that (and watching way too much nightly news) contributed to one of my stronger memories of elementary school, arguing with a classmate about the Reagan/Mondale election while walking up the stairs, arguing with a classmate that if Reagan was reelected, we'd all die. I'm sure I was a pleasant child.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:29 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


Yes, those were the good old days. Fear of nuclear death is passé; unfortunately the nukes aren't. Oh well. Maybe we'll all live to see the zombie apocalypse.

Those were the good old days, though. I grew up with duck and cover (here, kid, crawl under your desk and put these books over your head. Try not to look at the flash. You'll be fine.) Kids have good imaginations, so I supposed I would be just fine. I guess I was. A few years later I did get a chance to use expensive equipment to watch Soviet launches from an intercept site in northern Japan. That was fun. My theory of survival was a little bit shakier then.

The movie resonated in part by the mention of "300 ICBMs" inbound for Missouri. Funny thing, I saw that estimate in a collateral intelligence document way back when nobody was privy to the numbers of MIRVs that were targeted for a fairly small plot of land in Missouri. Our secretary of defense estimated that we'd be able to intercept 90% of them. Have a nice Day KC.

In those days we used to say that, if we lived, we'd look back on all that and laugh. I'm gonna need a little more time.
posted by mule98J at 5:10 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


The post-movie panel discussion is incredible: Kissinger says why dwell on this, Robert McNamara says something about game theory, Brent "MissileGate" Scowcroft is careful not to undercut Reagan policy, Sagan says everyone will die, Elie Wiesel says this is horrible. Then they start over: Kissinger dumps on McNamara who steams quietly while everyone ignores Buckley, who prods McNamara, but not Kissinger, then McNamara gets pissed, then Sagan says here's a disarmament concept that requires political will, the politicos sneer at him because fewer nukes mean they are more likely to be used and, responding to Koppel, says reduction in nukes is not the way to go. MAD is the strategy supported by the officials. No mention of Polaris submarines.

I was really interested in Kissinger's participation. (He was looking for a post-Nixon job.) Earlier in the 1960s, he was a major informant for The Fail-Safe Fallacy, a pro-government book by philosopher Sidney Hook that said don't worry about nuclear accidents, they won't happen. Trust us, says Henry K. He says much the same in this discussion: we must be confident by showing confidence in our government.

Questions follow. Buckley blathers (He says the US would not have dropped the Hiroshima bomb if Japan had a nuke and that's deterrence!) Sagan maintains the position that things can change and disarmament is possible. Kissinger says disarmament means more instability. McNamara becomes more and more testy. And so on. The most interesting thing is that, a little later, Reagan and Gorbachev do begin to disarm. The three politicos retreat from government into lobbying. Buckley becomes less and less interesting (except as a racist/homophobic foil). Wiesel does not make a great showing here (except for his final comment), but his work lasts. Sagan, of course, endures.
posted by CCBC at 5:16 PM on July 12, 2020 [13 favorites]


Don't pine for the 80s... [snip] And we had horrifying films reminding us as children, how we might die soon because our parents kept electing crazy people.

We had better music, though.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:58 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


like 99 luftbaloons?
posted by entropicamericana at 6:01 PM on July 12, 2020 [7 favorites]


in elementary school, there was playground discussion about how we'd be amongst the first to be vaporized

there was a certain pride in that era about being a primary target


This is my experience growing up in Washington DC in the 1960s.

Grave of the Fireflies originally came on a double-bill with My Neighbor Totoro. But perhaps it should have been with Threads instead.

Oh no -- anime all the way down -- When the Wind Blows instead of Threads. I saw Threads along with The Day After when they were first broadcast but it wasn't until recently I experienced When The Wind Blows and I agree with hippybear, it really is kinda the best/worst. Talk about sheltering in place! Getting how-to leaflets and then building that flimsy lean-to in the living room -- and this was actual, sanctioned advice? Yes, HM Government had the Protect And Survive program and here's their video cued at Building Your Refuge, shows you how to build your own. You can see one of those very 'shelters' in Threads. In the US people dug fallout shelters, but I never knew of anyone who actually had one.
posted by Rash at 6:18 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


Over on Alice, Vera fell for some cop (a familiar face from Hill Street Blues, where the actor played a sex worker) when he ticketed her for jaywalking; they got engaged, and then married, in the space of an hour. After that, channel 4 had Marty Sheen as JFK, already in progress; the accent was judged "iffy," and the TV was shut off.

My parents were also neglectful. As television viewers they were iron-fisted Deciders, though, so in this instance they accidentally spared me some nightmare fuel. Well, Vera's character arc notwithstanding.
posted by Iris Gambol at 7:31 PM on July 12, 2020 [1 favorite]


I can't not tell this story. Also this is really weird as I've been recently reading a book about the US's preparations in the event of a nuclear war (Raven Rock)

So when this originally aired, I had just turned 7, my brother was 11. We had a split level house and the tv was in a den downstairs, bedrooms upstairs. Brother and I really wanted to watch this, but only got a bit through it before bedtime was declared (not because of what was on TV, she didn't really care at all what we watched). We had the windows open downstairs, as were our bedroom windows. Mom was tucking us into bed and the beginning of the attack scene started with the air raid sirens. Which unfortunately you could hear upstairs as we left the TV on and windows open. My mom started losing her shit. Brother and I tried to tell her it was the TV, but she kept shushing us. She didn't understand why we were laughing as she's thinking we're all dead in half an hour.

Good times. My brother and I still laugh about this on occasion.
posted by efalk at 7:51 PM on July 12, 2020 [4 favorites]


Ruined years of my fucking life. I would look out the window if I heard an airplane, just to make sure. (Because obviously I was going to know wtf a nuclear missile looked like.) Then, during my 20s and early 30s, I spent a pleasant time not thinking we were ALL, ALL DOOMED and then global warming. And now All This. Welp.
posted by less of course at 8:05 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


I saw this movie when I was 13, I saw THREADS when I was 17. Both gave me recurring and vivid and INCREDIBLY detailed nightmares about nuclear war for the next 15 or so years.

I am now 50 and even just reading this thread is giving me a sense of that same creeping dread I felt then.

In an earlier discussion about the Cold War and Threads and such I linked to a video of a bunch of puppies so that link would be there if anyone in the thread wanted to take a bit of a puppy break. Here is this thread's puppy video.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:17 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


I swear, a post about The Day After seems to be kind of an annual event on MF.

When the Wind Blows plays to me like a a extremely dry and bleak comedy. I think The Big Snit manages to do it better.

I was in high school when The Day After was broadcast. We did the discussion, too. But, more than anything, it mostly seemed like a big shrug from most of the class. I'd been an avid sci fi consumer since I could consume sci fi, so the whole thing wasn't exactly new ground to me. So I thought it played a bit like a run of the mill made-for-TV movie, with recognizable stars and production values to match. So that's largely how I evaluated it. It's one area where I found Threads to do much better.

But yeah, the reaction from me and my peers at school was subdued, at least on the outside, more than I think one might expect. My view is that the reality was always in the background for many of us, the Reagan regime was in full swing, AIDS was a new, mysterious disease that was going to do us in if the nukes didn't. Religious zealotry was on the upswing, and there was fuck all we could do about it all.

One thing that's interesting is how often it seems we took solace in the notion that we'd be high on the list of being eliminated quickly in the case of war. Due to proximity to strategic targets nearby. t occurs to me that this was a common view across the country, and not without good reason, as such strategic locations were scattered all across the country without regard to population centers, or lack thereof, nearby.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:26 PM on July 12, 2020 [3 favorites]


we had horrifying films reminding us as children, how we might die soon because our parents kept electing crazy people

These days we call those "the news".
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


Watched it on TV, somewhat at the behest of my mother. It was what was on, but I remember it being _important_ that we watch this thing. We taped it on VHS. I still have that tape. I've rewatched it a few times in the years since; but I always turn it off after this 8 minute segment.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2020


dying instantly in a flash of light seems downright jolly compared to what's in store for us

Those of us who grew up downwind of a major city are accustomed to the notion of dying slowly from multiple organ failure.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:38 PM on July 12, 2020


It's the hair falling out that is such a graphic thing about radiation poisoning. It's so present and immediate and visible. The organ failure comes much later.

Sorry, this is a thing I've been thinking about all day now. The whole thing was such a horror, and yes be in the blast radius because the rest is all really awful. Really really awful.
posted by hippybear at 8:45 PM on July 12, 2020


Every time someone says that we’re living in “the darkest timeline,” I try to remind them that in half of them, the Cuban Missile Crisis went the other way.
posted by panama joe at 9:17 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


As much as people talk about the 80s and the anxiety and dread that these movies generated, honestly, all we did was see and think about what might happen. But ultimately it didn’t happen.

COVID and climate change, though...I feel sorry for today’s kids. They’re the ones who’ll get to live what we only feared.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:25 PM on July 12, 2020 [5 favorites]


Panamajoe - Every time someone says that we’re living in “the darkest timeline,” I try to remind them that in half of them, the Cuban Missile Crisis went the other way.

And in the other half, Petrov followed his orders and launched on warning.
posted by lon_star at 9:40 PM on July 12, 2020 [8 favorites]


People aged differently then. Robards was sixty when it was made

They all smoked a pack a day
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:15 PM on July 12, 2020 [6 favorites]


Robards was a chain-smoker, yes, but his 60 was not the average 60, even for the era. About 10 years before filming The Day After, Robards barely survived a drunk-driving crash and required a few rounds of plastic surgery for facial reconstruction.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:43 PM on July 12, 2020 [2 favorites]


COVID and climate change, though...I feel sorry for today’s kids. They’re the ones who’ll get to live what we only feared.

I'm convinced that the reason Western nations fear nuclear war and don't fear Covid and the climate disaster is that we don't have visuals for the latter.

We have plenty of visual history of the devastation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with movies like this and Threads.

Only some doctors and nurses see the devastation of Covid. Our media conspire to hide pictures of people wired up to ventilators and breathing their last. We also don't really get visuals of the impact of the climate disaster — some shots of hurricanes and flooding, but not the aftermath of people left homeless, destitute, starving.

I'm glad I don't have kids. This is no world to leave them.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:06 AM on July 13, 2020 [6 favorites]


Though my parents let me watch or read anything I damn well pleased from the time I was 5 or so, I didn't see The Day After until decades later despite my obsession with nuclear technology in general.

The book War Day gave me a rather vivid sense of what life could devolve into if the missiles started flying. The dreams started well before I read it, though, just because societal fear of getting nuked had reached a fever pitch well before the book came out in paperback.
posted by wierdo at 2:20 AM on July 13, 2020


I too am in the Scarred By Threads club. You don't think about the pure miserable horribleness of the world for ages after a nuclear attack, but Threads surprises you with its grim-of-all-grims depiction.
posted by Harry Caul at 7:10 AM on July 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


like 99 luftbaloons?

👃👈
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:13 AM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


The day after The Day After, the local paper published a half page graphic on its front page, showing how far the blast zone would extend if the city was hit. There was a bullseye graphic, but mostly a to-scale illustration of how high and far the mushroom cloud would go. Being in a bedroom community a little bit aways, we would still be just under the cloud, not enough to die immediately, but killed by fallout before too long. Enough time to realize the horror of it all before our deaths.

Front page graphic on how we would all die, just like on teevee.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:27 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


The Atlanta paper did that at one point, and the big news to me was that, in a full-scale nuclear strike, we would be targeted with about 5 warheads, to make sure that all centers of transportation and communication, as well as the area military bases, were entirely destroyed.
posted by thelonius at 7:37 AM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


like 99 luftbaloons?

You could make a solid playlist in the 80s about being killed by nuclear death:
A sampling:
Prince
Fishbone
INXS
Iron Maiden
Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Billy Bragg

Nuclear war songs are still a thing and it's sad how little has actually changed:
Sam Fender
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:48 AM on July 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


A yes, The Day After -- or as I like to call it, "My first panic attack at age 11 that wasn't directly related to getting my ass whooped by an older cousin."

I remember this and Threads convincing me to never, ever have children so I could never, ever watch them melt, die, bury them in my front/back yard while totally numb from the encroaching horror of a slow-motion radioactive death, etc.

Good times!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:54 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


The Earth Dies Screaming (1980)
posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:56 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


One thing I remember about anti-nuclear protests back in the 80s; I associate them with the UK because of popular media.

Marching against nuclear war was something Europeans who dressed like it was still the 70s did. I have a vivid memory of the Pink Floyd: The Wall movie where Pink’s wife meets the guy she ends up fucking at an anti-nuclear march.

I remember marches about AIDS and Apartheid. Nuclear annihilation was just... something that was on the table as an option. But getting your favorite artist to not perform at Sun City* seemed much more achievable than getting rid of extinction-level arsenals.

I think back, and my 80s teen self was all over Amnesty International marches. But marching against nuclear war? That was something only hippies in “Bloom County” did.

* Oh, Queen, dear Queen; so disappointed. 😞
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:59 AM on July 13, 2020


I staunchly refused to watch The Day After. I knew for a fact that I didn't want to see that. I still haven't read or seen On the Beach, because reasons. I remember the Cuban missile crisis. I remember wondering and worrying if the ash that cane from burning scraps in the nearby sawmill could be fallout somehow. Like, seriously worrying.

But if memory serves, I watched Testament on PBS and Threads relatively close together in time. Whenever I see Jane Alexander, I always think of Testament. I cried and cried and cried.

I saw Threads late one night on TBS, lying in bed, knowing I was going to be wrecked the following day, but unable to look away. I was absolutely shattered by it. And in what I STILL conside to be one of the most inspired programming decisions of all time, TBS followed it up with Harvey, with James Stewart, about a giant invisible magic pooka in rabbit form. It was the very best possible unicorn chaser for a movie like Threads. So I had to stay up even later just to clear my mind with it.
posted by Archer25 at 8:45 AM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


I was not allowed to watch this, and though I have consumed plenty of violent and disturbing entertainment since then, that early prohibition makes me very nervous to watch it now. But I will.
posted by oneironaut at 8:48 AM on July 13, 2020


Last night on Turner Classic Movies, I happened to catch about half of Hiroshima, an independent film made in 1953 by director Hideo Sekigawa. It was funded by the Hiroshima Teachers' Union and featured a reported 88,000 extras, many of whom were actual survivors of the attack. The script was based on accounts written by Hiroshima school children. The film has been lost since the mid-50s, and only got a restoration in the last couple of years. I only watched about half, because I could not finish it. I am no lightweight, but it is EXTREMELY harrowing.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:31 AM on July 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


Oh, and talking about art – I didn't see anyone mentioning Barefoot Gen in this thread, a manga (and anime yt ) by Keiji Nakazawa, a Hiroshima survivor, so here it goes.

The parts depicting the bombing and its immediate aftermath are worse nightmare fuel than Threads. Yes, I know that's a bold statement.
posted by Gelatin at 9:37 AM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


I read On The Beach by Nevil Shute, as a young teen, living overseas. Very, sadly, readable. He also wrote a book called Vinland the Good, interesting title, considering the fans of the other in here. He wrote A Town Like Alice, rated number 17 of the best 200 novels by some entity, I closed the tab on.
posted by Oyéah at 9:39 AM on July 13, 2020


One reason I still like (some of) Douglas Coupland is that in Life After God, he has a whole section about nuclear fears, ways he thought he might die in a strike, how afraid he was as a kid, that was weirdly comforting. I guess if you have to carry a horrible fear like that, it helps to know that everyone else did too.

The worst part about watching The Day After was that I did it in secret (I wasn't supposed to) and so I couldn't ask my parents for comfort (though my dad's comfort would probably have been "don't worry, we'll get Raptured first").
posted by emjaybee at 10:18 AM on July 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


I too am in the Scarred By Threads club. You don't think about the pure miserable horribleness of the world for ages after a nuclear attack, but Threads surprises you with its grim-of-all-grims depiction.

I got halfway through it the first time it aired on TBS. I haven't gone back for any more. It made a massive impression on me. As I see the gun nuts, the preppers, the survivalists, etc. preparing for when, as they call it, SHTF (shit hits the fan), I still come back to this. If the world ever does get that bad, you're not going to want to survive through that.

There's all the talk about where you live being high on the target list. We definitely were here. We have a Air Force SAC base, and it's home to A-10 squadrons as well as the famed "boneyard." Back in the Cold War, Tucson was ringed by 18 Titan II missile silos, Hughes Aircraft (now Raytheon) has a huge manufacturing plant here, and Davis-Monthan AFB had a GLCM (ground launched cruise missile) group based here. The GLCM squads would be sent in Europe with mobile cruise missile launchers, and the missiles were nuclear armed. Striking DMAFB with a nuke gets you a two-fer, because there's a power plant just outside the boundary of the base, and those were listed as priority targets on the FEMA maps. Those maps showed Tucson likely to get at least two warheads detonated, one at the base and one at the airport, which would take out Hughes and the Air National Guard base at the airport.

The number of active warheads has gone way down, and therefore targeting takes on a different priority, so what was a target in the 80s might not be one today. Still, I think - and hope - DM is on the target list. I live close by the base. And if we get the alert that the nukes are incoming, I'll go outside, get on my roof, and wait for the boom. I don't want to be around for the aftermath.
posted by azpenguin at 12:35 PM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


I was living in Lawrence when The Day After was filmed there, so I have an amusing story that is unrelated to the nuclear war aspect.

They asked people in town to audition for parts. But they rejected the actual Kansans because, they said, midwesterners are fat, and the people who came to audition were not. I remember one complaint about how the real Kansans "looked like they came off a Nautilus machine" because, you know, we do have gyms and stuff and even Nautilus machines in Kansas. So they went to Hollywood to get fat people to play midwesterners because the actual midwesterners were not fat enough. This was reported in the Lawrence Journal World at the time.

As a native midwesterner who has a lot of Feelings about how Hollywood and the media in general depict us, this has always stuck with me.
posted by FencingGal at 12:42 PM on July 13, 2020 [17 favorites]


I missed the movie as I went to a party that night given by the free music monthly The Rocket to celebrate their 100th issue. It featured a kick ass band of whom we, save a few, had never heard -- Los Lobos.

This was well before they had released their album. And oh, they must have been pissed -- only a few score people attended that night We present all realized everyone else was home watching The Day After.

So, I was and am glad I missed the movie. The threat of nuclear war terrified me throughout my childhood. I remember watching John F. Kennedy announce the Cuban Missile blockade while my mother was ironing in the dining room and hearing her quip 'Well, we're all going to die now.' Gee, thanks mom for sharing!

But that was not my only sleepless night. I'd read Fail Safe and seen On The Beach. The early 60s were nightmarish times for real. I spent many a night awake until the wee hours terrorized at the thought of nuclear war. But then that has been a feature all my life.
posted by y2karl at 12:50 PM on July 13, 2020 [3 favorites]


I got halfway through [Threads] the first time it aired on TBS. I haven't gone back for any more.

It's probably good that you didn't go back for more. The first half is the sunny, cheery, optimistic half. Relatively speaking.
posted by tclark at 2:50 PM on July 13, 2020 [5 favorites]


I’ve seen Los Lobos live on multiple occasions. You made the healthy choice, y2karl.
posted by Songdog at 3:46 PM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


A panel discussion featuring Carl Sagan, Elie Wiesel, Henry Kissinger, George Schulz, William F. Buckley, and others was broadcast after the movie aired. I think I found out about the discussion from this segment that aired on On the Media.

I downloaded and listened to the panel discussion. I was inspired to do so by a remark from Elie Wiesel that OTM quoted:
I’m afraid of madness. I’m afraid that madness is possible in history…. And the only way, I believe, to prevent that madness would be to remember. If we remember that things are possible, then I believe memory can become a shield.
I later stumbled across this interview with George Schulz, recorded in 2018. It astonished me that he seemed so totally bananas in the context of a 1983 panel discussion, and like such a Reasonable Centrist Person in the context of an interview 35 years later.
posted by compartment at 3:46 PM on July 13, 2020


This was well before they had released their album.

Upon research, I come to find out How Will the Wolf Survive? was Los Lobos' first major label release but by no means was their first record.
posted by y2karl at 3:49 PM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


I came in late that night and only saw the last few minutes, but stayed for the panel discussion...

We were in Canada, so we switched channels back and forth between the USA discussion and the Canadian media pundits discussion. The Canadian media pundits discussion was kinda moronic by comparison, poor moderation with old guys yelling over each other, except for Barbara Amiel who just stared at them. (Amiel's opinions are always awful, but she showed some restraint here).
posted by ovvl at 4:14 PM on July 13, 2020


8th grade drills where we'd have to go out in the hallway and line up against the lockers and all the kids would joke about how we'd melt into the metal when the bombs hit.

My school held monthly “tornado” drills where we’d crouch the hallway with a heavy book over our heads, shielding our eyes with our knee caps. Yes North Dakota gets plenty of tornadoes... just not in December. And apparently only two “tornado” drills per year were necessary after 1990.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:45 PM on July 13, 2020 [4 favorites]


TBS followed it up with Harvey, with James Stewart
I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to say I've finally won out over it.
Ironically, I first heard that quote in as sample from some scream tracker iii song long before I actually saw the film. Sure wish I could remember which song..
posted by wierdo at 6:38 PM on July 13, 2020 [1 favorite]


A 720x544 DivX DVD rip [of The War Game] with an info hash of 43d76a3c548c57eb81caa0ad0e69edec80e690d3 is available via BitTorrent.

The video quality on that is kind of rubbish; lots of broken frames. The version with info hash 1f25cfc2dcdebd79563f49a50ec224f4b098ca14 is a lot cleaner.
posted by flabdablet at 10:16 PM on July 13, 2020


We had “civil defense drills” where we’d troop into the creepy-ass school basement and lean face-first against the wall. Then a second row of kids would come and lean face-first into the kids who were leaning against the wall. Being in that second row kind of made you feel like cannon fodder; I guess our melted flesh would protect the backs of those first-row kids.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:36 PM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


But we didn’t need to have school shooter drills, so there was that.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:39 PM on July 13, 2020 [2 favorites]


For a movie that captures the existential dread of that era from a different angle, I recommend Frank Perry’s Ladybug Ladybug (1963).

Also worth checking out is Countdown to Looking Glass (1984), a Canadian production that hops back and forth between straight drama and Special Bulletin-style simulated newscast.
posted by non canadian guy at 12:54 AM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


You had the one enemy, the old CCCP, and you understood that that the Russians loved their children too but the generals did not, and it could happen at any time.

One of the more heartening things I've read about the Cold War was the report[1] on an oral round table held with high ranking ex-Warsaw Pact and NATO commanders where several of the participants mentioned that at the time they just did not believe war would ever happen. They knew they did not have any plans to attack and they did not believe their counterparts had either.

[1] (MILITARY PLANNING FOR EUROPEAN THEATRE CONFLICT DURING THE COLD WAR
AN ORAL HISTORY ROUNDTABLE STOCKHOLM, 24–25 APRIL 2006)
posted by MartinWisse at 1:50 AM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


So having never seen this (I was only 4 when it aired, so thanks for making that call mom!), I decided to give it a try last night. For anyone who didn't see it as a kid and is scared by all the comments here: don't worry. Like seriously, I have seen so many worse movies about nuclear accidents (hell, even the nuclear blast nightmare that Sarah Connor has in T2 is scarier). I'm sure if I would have seen it when I was 10, it probably would have scared me too.

As an adult, however, I was actually really disappointed compared to all the hype it got here. The nuclear blast scenes themselves (except for the instant skeleton ones) were mostly stock footage that I've seen 100 times. There was definitely not enough radiation poisoning going on (no one's skin even fell off, I don't know if anyone even threw up ever!). I would think that in 1989, lots of people would know what radiation is, know not to go traipsing around the radioactive ash (and also remove it as quickly as possible!), and to stay out of the rain for a long time. But the people were just so stupid about it.

Question for any nuclear scientists with us, how would the radiation from a nuclear bomb like this compare to the radiation in Chernobyl? (That HBO special was total nightmare fuel!)

Maybe tonight is a Threads kind of night...
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:14 AM on July 14, 2020


Maybe tonight is a Threads kind of night...

* quietly makes calendar note to have a teddy bear and another puppy video ready for LizBoBiz this evening *
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:13 AM on July 14, 2020 [6 favorites]


Maybe tonight is a Threads kind of night...

That's kind of like saying "maybe today is a colonoscopy kind of day"
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:54 AM on July 14, 2020 [3 favorites]




I watched Threads today. My son was kind of watching as well, but the first blast followed by the melting cat did him in. I watched until the end. I felt like I did from about 13. Impending doom is such a terrible feeling.

You could make a solid playlist in the 80s about being killed by nuclear death

This is my favourite - Breathing by Kate Bush.
posted by h00py at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


Question for any nuclear scientists with us, how would the radiation from a nuclear bomb like this compare to the radiation in Chernobyl?

The Chernobyl explosion put 400 times more radioactive material into the Earth's atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima; atomic weapons tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s all together are estimated to have put some 100 to 1,000 times more radioactive material into the atmosphere than the Chernobyl accident."


Thanks but I should have been more clear. Not just the radiation on the atmosphere, but the actual radiation levels at ground zero. Like the Doctor guy in The Day After was just walking through the town after it got blasted no problem. I would have thought he would have been worse.
posted by LizBoBiz at 8:01 AM on July 14, 2020


You could make a solid playlist in the 80s about being killed by nuclear death

You could, couldn't you?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:22 PM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


I just watched it (for the first time).

It was interesting, because it did not have any redeeming Happy End. They had a baby being born at the very end, but it was not a hope for the future: It was pretty clear that he had no chance.
The film was 2 hours long. Like clockwork, the first hour was the Before. The blast were exactly half way, and the "day after" was the exact second half.

There was no hope in that second half, not even a bit.

Just as it should been.
posted by growabrain at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Speaking of atomic weapons tests, this animation shows every single one from 1945-1998. There are... a lot. (Previously on MetaFilter)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2020 [1 favorite]


Thanks but I should have been more clear. Not just the radiation on the atmosphere, but the actual radiation levels at ground zero. Like the Doctor guy in The Day After was just walking through the town after it got blasted no problem. I would have thought he would have been worse.

Yeah but he was half-dead from radiation poisoning and there was a family in the ruins of his home that was half-dead from radiation poisoning

I feel like he had a few problems
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2020 [2 favorites]


ok so I did end up watching Threads last night and yes it is much worse. I thought it was actually a really good movie. Still as a mid-thirties person without such a looming threat of nuclear war as in the 80's, it didn't give me nightmares. Though I did have to look away at some scenes, especially in the hospital. (Reminder for my future self, don't even consider the hospital in a nuclear apocalypse)

Comparing Threads to The Day After, much more realistic I think. The American movie is not as graphic, and also the government still exists at the end. The British movie, however shows just the entire collapse of society. Maybe that's a difference in geography? I guess being a fairly small island means that the entire country could be demolished far easier than the US.

What I do find interesting in both movies, is that there was some build up to the nuclear strikes. There's days or weeks of escalating tensions, which is some comfort to me. I guess I always figured it would be a surprise but increasing tensions makes more sense.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:39 AM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]


As I promised....

Comparing Threads to The Day After, much more realistic I think. The American movie is not as graphic, and also the government still exists at the end. The British movie, however shows just the entire collapse of society. Maybe that's a difference in geography?

I chalked that up more so to a sort of American TV propensity to soft-pedal things. American TV and movies are more prone to having a sort of happy-ending, cushioned approach to things; media and TV in the UK has a history of being a little more prone to not pulling its punches. Like, consider the differences between the UK version of The Office and the US one. So my own take was that Threads was harsher than The Day After for much the same reasons as Steve Carell was playing a nicer guy than Ricky Gervais did, and for much the same reasons that US Jim and Pam ended up together but UK Jim and Pam didn't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on July 15, 2020 [6 favorites]


That attitude may come from the post-war literature -- in the aforementioned On The Beach (by British writer Nevil Shute, from 1957) the bleak ending has survivors Down Under waiting to die from the radiation, or hastening the end with government-supplied suicide pills; whereas in the American Tomorrow! by Philip Wylie from 1952, and Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank from 1959 (and even the more realistic Warday from 1984) cities have been hit by atomic bombs, yes; but the effects are local and like Hiroshima, those cities may even be rebuilt and civilization is returning to normal.
posted by Rash at 6:23 PM on July 16, 2020 [2 favorites]


I don't know if I'd call the situation in Warday anything approaching normal, but it is optimistic in the sense that some semblance of civilization is finally returning in parts of the US after several years of mass starvation rather than literally everyone on Earth dying of radiation poisoning. There is an after, at least for some.

One of the more striking things about it to modern sensibility is the way that information, especially about far away places, remains nearly impossible to get. Between the damage to infrastructure and the political leadership, such as it is, finding it advantageous to keep most people in the dark, there is little more than rumor about what things are like in the rest of the world.
posted by wierdo at 2:56 AM on July 17, 2020 [1 favorite]


I don't know why, but the family dog whining outside at the farmers' basement door after the strikes and the farmer calmly telling his kids that they didn't have enough food and water for him was something else that stayed with me.

And the whole -point- of this movie was that you would probably NOT die in the initial strikes - you'd live, sick and starving with everyone you know dead or dying too, until disease or radiation or some basic (formerly) preventable illness or a bullet killed you.

A lot of us romanticized it to say you're just get vaporized, and you wouldn't, and neither would most of the people you loved. You'd all just get to watch each other die, slowly.

This wasn't a 'disaster movie' - it was an attempt at a documentary of something that hadn't happened yet but we knew had a pretty good chance of happening. Only fools or ignorant children would laugh at it.

We came close to this a number of times, some we heard about and a bunch I'm sure we didn't:
posted by lon_star at 12:56 AM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]


"The dying teenager who wanted world peace (and love)" - a nice, evidently true, story that begins with the protagonist watching The Day After.
posted by XMLicious at 4:58 PM on July 25, 2020 [1 favorite]


« Older Heart - Heart   |   Ultra-Extreme Intensity, Low Excitement Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments