Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"The Day After"

When I was younger, I saw a movie that haunted me for years, and years. It was called "The Day After," and it dealt with the aftermath of global thermonuclear war. It was powerful, and growing up in the 70s and 80s, all too real a possibility.

SciFi channel just finished playing it. I missed the beginning, but it is the middle and end that are important.

At the end, we see a young man and woman with radiation sickness, but still seeing each other with love and humor. "They gave me a ribbon, but I don't have any hair to put it in," the young woman smiles sadly. The young man laughs self-effacingly, as he pulls off his baseball cap to reveal that he, too, has lost his hair. The camera pulls back to reveal a huge sports complex, with thousands of people sheltering, all sick.

We see a woman straining to give birth, surrounded by the other pregnant women sheltering in the hospital. The baby cries with strength, while the mother collapses in relief, happy and sad in the same moment. Alive for now, but what after?

We see an old man, a doctor from the hospital, sick, but at the end of a journey to his home, to find his family. All that remains is a cratered ruin. He picks up a damaged watch from the debris, then notices a man, woman, and two children, under a makeshift tent near the remains of his fireplace. They are covered with dust, and blend into the background. They are silent as he screams at them to get out of his house. The other man offers him food, but the doctor repeats himself, and violently gestures to them, before falling to his knees. The other man gently approaches, and pulls the doctor into his arms, to comfort him as he breaks down and cries.

The film ends with an admonishment that the scenes shown in the film are likely less severe than actual damage would be in reality.

No wonder this film scared the hell out of me for decades.

At one point, after the President finally speaks on the radio (because of course, he's safe), a man asks, "But he didn't say who shot first? Who shot first? Who started it?"

The answer: "Does it matter?"

I wonder if teenagers seeing this today would understand that this wasn't simply an action movie.

For the love of God why are we even starting to make more? Are we doing it simply because we have to be one step ahead of the madmen who are intent on starting their own cold war? Probably. Will it work to deter? Probably, but at what price?

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