Thursday, November 14, 2013

Threads (1984): Nuclear War, Straight No Chaser

Threads (1984)
dir: Mick Jackson

In high school, many American students were subjected to the 1983 film The Day After during their lessons on the 80s cold war segment. It was a combination of cold war paranoia, nuclear war fears, and American melodrama. The Day After's focus on melodrama neutered the impact that it would have on emotionally scarring high school kids.

Threads pulls no punches. Threads is stylistically reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick (notably, The Killing), Truffaut, and Altman...sometimes all at once. Threads is a cold, horrific, detailed account of the events leading up to the nuclear bombing of Britain and the aftermath, both short and long term.

Threads opens on a couple at make out point, with Johnny B Goode blaring on the radio. They switch the radio and we start hearing about the moving of Soviet forces into Iran and the US being pissed about it, but it is brief, and quickly turned off so the couple can screw and get accidentally pregnant. The first 20 minutes of the film is an accounting of the first couple of weeks of May when this Iranian crisis is background noise to the accidental pregnancy of young love.

The next 20 minutes start to detail the oncoming panic that the UK feels as they finally start focusing on the crisis. The citizens hold disarmament rallies, loot stores, and move out of the major cities for the countrysides. The pregnancy and apartment renovation of the new couple takes a back seat to the paranoiac reactions, the preparations of the Sheffield war government, and the ongoing developments of the US government's movements toward the Soviet Union.

The next 20 minutes detail the day of the bombings, and the effects, which includes the killing of the boy, the starvation of the people, and the movements of the people and the dead.

The final hour doesn't go into melodramatic detail of hospitals and taking care of people. The people in the blast radius are left for sick or dead. They're denied food and medical care. The injuries and sicknesses effect everybody. The people are left to start learning how to work and how to farm because there are no more stores or manufacturers. And, we watch this through our surrogates: the young love woman and her daughter.

This is not The Day After which is all about the bombing and the day after. Threads is a harrowing experience showing how the attack will start as background noise, then encompass life. This shows people dying, dogs feeding on corpses, people burning, cities on fire, and the necessary callousness of government towards the survivors. There are no makeshift hospitals with E.R. level dramas. Threads is a dog-eat-dog movie.

Threads will break you. It won't make you cry, it doesn't make you care for anybody in the movie. You can relate to the surrogates as you want, but they're not treated with any sort of cloying emotion. The main characters are tools within which to walk through the details of the nuclear devastation. Threads isn't interested in the intimate. Threads is interested in the large-scale personal. In having much of its post-blast runtime include still photos of corpses in the streets amidst factoids, Threads doesn't limit what may happen. It coldly tells you that food is scarce and people are happy when others die because it means the food will last longer. It coldly tells you that typhoid is among the illnesses that will readily occur after a bombing. It coldly says that there are 10-20 million bodies that are rotting in the streets because people need to start growing food and have no time to bury the bodies en masse.

Threads doesn't want to make you cry. It wants to make you scared. This is a full on horror movie. Deeply affecting, and deeply disturbing, you really don't expect it. Required viewing.

Sidenote: Threads is not available on DVD in the US, but is on YouTube at the time of this writing.

Sidenote 2: This is getting especially harrowing again because of yet another Iranian crisis. In real life, we're just now claiming, again, that Iran is progressing with their nuclear program. I don't think I have heard Russia coming in on this, but nuclear war is obviously what this latest scenario is about.

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