Thursday, May 12, 2011


(November 1983, U.S.)

Now might be the right time to tell you all that every once in a great while I will be discussing a film that was made for television and not released theatrically (at least not in the United States). In many cases, these films will be adaptations of Stephen King novels. THE DAY AFTER, however, is no Stephen King story. It is, in fact, far more terrifying than anything King has and will likely ever write.

To be clear, THE DAY AFTER is a horrifying story of nuclear destruction and its aftermath centered on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas, Kansas City, Missouri, and several family farms situated next to nuclear missile silos. The film was broadcasted on ABC-TV in 1983 and it left its more than 100 million viewers as if they'd been pulverized with a sledgehammer, to put it mildly. It's the present day of the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was President and the threat of nuclear war was just as valid and as feared as it was in the 1950s and '60s. We don't fully comprehend why the world is in political crisis, we don't know which side is at fault and we don't know who started it. It's irrelevant because the missles are flying into the sky towards Russia as we watch in confusion and we know that their missles are on there way towards us. By today's filming standards of "movie world destroyers" like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay, the scenes of death and destruction following the nuclear explosions may seem tame. But for a television audience in 1983, they were nearly paralyzing. Even today, as I watched it again for the purpose of this post, I sat on my sofa with an incredibly tense look on my face, my mouth occassionally gaping open in shock and horror. Just ask me what film has scared me the most and my answer will always be THE DAY AFTER. No other film has ever put such a knot of fear and dread in my stomach as this one has. One need only watch the scene just before the first bomb hits, when the awful sound of the alarms are filling the streets and people are completely panic-striken. The camera then pulls back from the city skyline and the blast hits, creating the ominous, almost beautiful mushroom cloud that follows. Those images will scare the shit out of me more than all my favorite horror films combined.

When I watched THE DAY AFTER in 1983, I was just 16 years-old. When it was over, I felt just as wasted and exhausted as many others must have felt. I found myself walking to my bedroom window and pulling the shade back to catch a glimpse of the night sky and the street outside. You see, I felt I NEEDED to see that it was all still there. What happened next, I could not make up even if I wanted to - ABC's "Nightline" came on and Ted Koppel started to speak. The very first thing he said was (I'm paraphrasing), "Alright, you can all relax. It's all still out there." My God, how the hell did he know how I felt? I would seem I wasn't the only one. Predictably, the film provoked much political debate. Many argued that the film underscored the true personal horror of nuclear conflict and that the United States should therefore renounce the "first use" of nuclear weapons, a policy which had been a cornerstone of NATO defense planning in Europe. Critics claimed the film was either sensationalizing nuclear war or that it was too tame versus its actual reality. For myself, it was a tense discussion for a least one of my high school classes the next day.

The subject of nuclear war and its horrors are, perhaps, dated by now. Oh, sure, it still exists and always will exist, but the old fear of the 20th Century has been replaced by the 21st Century fear of global terrorism. Nuclear warhead have been replaced by box cutters and shoe bombs. Politicians with their finger on the button have been replaced with radical terrorist organizations living in caves. In other words, global fears take different shapes and forms, but they still exist...and always will until we stop it once and for all.

Hey, at least we finally killed Osama Bin Laden!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Dr. Landowska: "There is a rumor that they are evacuating Moscow. There are people even leaving Kansas City because of the missile base. Now I ask you - to where does one go from Kansas City? The Yukon? Tahiti? We are not talking about Hiroshima anymore. Hiroshima was... was peanuts!"
Dr. Russell Oakes: "What's going on? Do you have any idea what's going on in this world?"
Dr. Landowska: "Yeah. Stupidity...has a habit of getting its way."

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