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Nuclear night out: our tips about worthy documentaries and movies

February 28, 2017

Nuclear weapons are, in general, not a very commercial topic: they’re simply too horrific to provide entertainment that most would want to browse through on their free time. Even the most hilarious post-apocalyptic radiation zombie flick comes with that nasty undertone: a reminder that should a nuclear holocaust actually take place, there wouldn’t be much to laugh about anymore.

Nevertheless, the topic has brought many writers or film makers to produce excellent works of fiction in the genres of docudrama, documentary and even pure fiction: even if that fiction is based on real-life scientific facts. We here at the Faslane Peace Camp are exposed on realities of nuclear warfare on everyday basis (after all, if the doomsday button would be pushed, we’d have approximately 4-6 minutes to live anymore!), and thus felt like putting together a short, entertaining and educating list of recommendations about audiovisual takes on the topic of nuclear armament that we’d like to share with you.

1. Threads: as we are located in the UK, Threads, a 1984 British television drama, deserves to be mentioned. It’s a docudrama account of nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in Northern England, and depicts the medical, economic, social and environmental consequences of nuclear war. Threads was the first production ever to depict a nuclear winter, and has been nominated as the “film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture”. It is still as up-to-date as it was then: well, maybe apart from those ghastly 80’s hairdo’s!

2. The Day After: an American television film, The Day After, got first aired 1983, bringing the likely consequences of the Cold War nuclear disaster actually breaking out into the living rooms of large audiences. Before the film premiered, viewers were warned of “graphic and disturbing scenes”, and parents were encouraged to watch together and discuss the issues of nuclear warfare with their kids after the film. Television channel had hotlines with counsellors standing by. The realistic portrayal of nuclear war received praise. President Reagan watched the film before its screening, and wrote in his diary that it was “very effective and left me greatly depressed,” and that it changed his mind on the prevailing policy on a nuclear war. Four years later, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed and in Reagan’s memoirs he drew a direct line from the film to the signing: “Don’t think your movie didn’t have any part of this, because it did.

3. Command and Control: the 2016 documentary Command and Control brings us the long-hidden story of an horrific accident at a Titan II missile complex in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. Based on the book by Eric Schlosser, it reminds you of an ancient golden rule: fiction will always play a second fiddle to reality when it comes to true horrors. The case history simply exposes the terrifying truth about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal and shows what can happen, in reality, when the weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us. Documentary presents us the chain of events that caused the accident and the efforts to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States – a warhead 600 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. Living next to the Trident nuclear deterrent brings this one uncomfortably close to home, that much we can say!

4. On the Beach: and speaking of HMNB Clyde, a.k.a. Faslane Naval base and its Vanguard nuclear subs, we feel that On the Beach is a work of (sort of) fiction that needs to be mentioned: after all, in its center are a crew of an Los Angeles-class submarine, on station following a nuclear exchange. Based on the 1957 novel by Nevil Shute, both movies (the 1959 original and the 2000 remake) update the setting of the story to the film’s then-future of 2005. As a mini-serie this is a relatively lengthy one, but delivers some impressive images of the aftermath of the nuclear holocaust: the submarine crew walking through the ruins of Anchorage discovering how the people there committed suicide en masse, and a educative periscope tour of the ruins of San Francisco.

5. Akira: as a closing clip, we choose a true classic on many levels, Akira. At the end of the film, a white mass begins to envelop Neo-Tokyo, its swirling winds engulfing the city, swallowing it and leaving nothing but a skeleton of a city. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were and are a national trauma for the Japanese. Part of the healing process still means returning to it in literature, music and art. The lasting images of the firebombings and the nuke bombs are visible, for example, in the works of Osamu Tezuka and his successor, Hayao Miyazaki. Both witnessed the of the bombings at the end of the war. Akira is just one of the many adaptations and takes on these marks of horrific history of nuclear weapons.

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  1. Simon de Bourcier permalink

    I’d add to that list two important films by Peter Watkins: his 1965 drama The War Game and his 1987 documentary The Journey.

    • Films you mention would truly deserve to be added on the list – and much recommended to those interested! From our behalf, on to it could also go The Man Who Saved the World, a 2014 documentary about Stanislav Petrov, a former lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces and his role in preventing the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident from leading to nuclear holocaust. It always comes down to dissidents and those who wilfully disobey the common sense rather than commands?

  2. H.P. permalink

    I’d like to add Dr Strangelove, and By Dawns Early Light, an American film starring Rebecca DeMornay.

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