The 1950’s and ’60’s brought many movies dealing with the effects of nuclear war and radiation. Godzilla, Split Second, Panic in the Year Zero, The Bedford Incident, Dr. Strangelove (one of my all-time favorite films) and many others. The 1980’s brought another wave, after the revanchist Reagan presidency, The Day After and Threads.
The classic film about the ELE effects of radiation that people usually bring up is On the Beach (1959), a very good film starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. Everyone should see it.
Testament makes On the Beach look like Mary Poppins. Not because it’s gory, not because of special effects, but because of its sheer wrenching emotional power. An ordinary American family living in California experiences a sudden and unexpected global nuclear war. The town they live in is too far away from San Francisco to receive blast damage, but the infrastructure is destroyed, and they await knowingly the effects of radiation to descend on their town.
It stars Jane Alexander in an Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated performance, William Devane, and a very young Kevin Costner. Lynne Littman directed it, and you can see the woman’s touch. Critics such as Gene Siskel panned this movie for being schmaltzy and maudlin, but I disagree strongly, this is very much in the spirit of classic filmmaking, the emotional touches are just right for a subject like this.
Carol Wetherly kisses the answering machine, after unexpectedly hearing a message from her departed husband. She sews a grave shroud for her oldest daughter. Everyone is sick or dying. Bodies are being burned because the cemetery is full.
The direction, script and acting here is uniformly excellent. Jane Alexander is a revelation. The elderly amateur radio operator who can no longer raise anybody. The Japanese boy with Down’s syndrome. How Carol couldn’t commit suicide. The simple love and courage to survive in the extremity of catastrophe. This is meant to be totally devastating, and it is, it will give you nightmares.
I’m living in this world already, and have BEEN living in this world for some time. So are other canaries like StillJill. Pundits and so-called “experts” are speaking soothing words, about how Fuku isn’t so bad… I am speaking, like Carol, with a voice torn out of my belly, “WHO DID THIS? GOD DAMN YOU”.
Instead of the doom taking a few weeks, it is taking a few years. My life is Testament in slow motion.
This movie made the grizzled and jaded old Bobby1 cry.