Thursday, July 30, 2009

SHTF: BBC Threads Nuclear War

Originally called a "docudrama" the UK movie "Threads" was released in 1984, a few months after the U.S. ABC Made for TV movie "The Day After". Both movies featured a fictional nuclear war event.

The story takes place in Sheffield, England in summer 1984. A short war between NATO and the Soviet Union breaks out over Iran. As it heats up, a few nuclear devices are used which quickly escalates into total nuclear war.

There are three sub plots in Threads;

A young woman who is expecting a baby and who lives with her parents.

Her boyfriend, who also lives with his family in another location of the city.

The town mayor and his staff who try to prepare the city for the possibility of a nuclear attack.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of Sheffield as the tension builds.

Stores run short on food as shoppers flock at the last minute to stock up. Some residents try to leave town for other parts of the country but find the roads closed off to "official business" only. Meanwhile, other residents spend their time protesting with the nuclear freeze movement hoping to avert a war.

When the attack comes, the young man's family tries to improvise a fallout shelter in the kitchen out of doors and mattresses. The young woman's family on the other hand, appears to have planned ahead and has a basement with some supplies prepositioned.

The mayor and staff have burrowed themselves in the basement of city hall in an emergency planning shelter with generator and supplies, hoping to coordinate efforts from this location.

The attack itself is ugly, probably the most graphic of all the nuclear movies of the time period. Two bombs are dropped on and near Sheffield. Thousands of citizens die horrifically while burning alive or from the blasts and the city is also heavily damaged. Several key characters die or disappear at this point leaving us with a core group of survivors for the remainder of the film.

The mayor and staff are trapped in the basement and while trying to get out, manage the efforts of their teams above. The job is daunting as there are thousands of dead, dying and injured above with little hope of help. This executive leadership team has little preparation or training and quickly find themselves and their efforts overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, after the death of a family member, the young woman leaves the basement shelter in search of her boyfriend and we get a view of the world outside. The destruction is everywhere and overwhelming. The scene at the hospital is particularly disturbing as the medical resources of the city are strained and no where near the level needed to cope with the injured.

The young man's family meanwhile, is left with only two members remaining and both have been exposed to significant amounts of radiation from the blast and fallout. They lay in their partially demolished home awaiting death which is slow and agonizing.

Dialog nearly stops at this point as the actors speak less and less as the situation envelopes them. The cold, the lack of water and food, the constant wandering search for shelter and the next meal. One by one, the characters die off from the effects of the war and the dark future ahead.

The movie ends thirteen years after it started with the daughter of the young woman now a teenager. She lives in a bleak, cold world. Ignorant and furtive, homeless and forever living from one hardship to the next.

Throughout the film, there are narratives describing scenes which can not be explained by the participants. There are also ongoing radio announcements from the government attempting to prepare the city for war ("The best place to be, is at home. Stay there.").

There are defining moments, such as when the family moves the dead grandmother outside of the shelter and covers the body with a blanket. They follow the rules given by the government for the disposal of the body but do so with guilty embarrassment as if they are worried the neighbors may see them. Afterwards, the scurry back down to the basement to hide once again, with no plan whatsoever as to what they will do when their food runs out.

There was much criticism when Threads was released and which is still relevant today.

The movie was largely the work of writers sympathetic to the anti-nuclear movement. Many are of the opinion that the film maker made Threads as graphic as possible to drum up support for the nuclear freeze movement in the UK and Europe during the early 80's.

Also, some of the possibilities described have been questions, such as nuclear winter resulting from the attack and the effect of fallout on the population. These matters can be argued by others elsewhere, here is what I learned.

- Being in the city is the worse place to be in a nuclear attack. Too many people, not enough food, not enough room between you and someone who wants your stuff.

- You can never stock up too soon and too much. Within a week of the nuclear attack, people are starving. Food became the new money. People fight over crusts of bread, a handful of grain and even rats.

- Having a basement or fallout shelter beforehand is a good thing. Trying to make a shelter at the last minute is dumb.

- Guns keep bad guys away. In the UK, most people do not own guns. Result - bad guys get to take what they want from you. Including your food.

- Have somewhere to go. One character spends the rest of her life living in abandoned sheds and barns. Not fun.

- The country is great to escape to if you have a farm and home. If you are wandering from place to place, the country is just a big, empty place to die.

- The government, for lack of resources and due to the sheer magnitude of their job, will not help you in this scenario. Don't plan on it.

- Did I mention food? Get lots now. Don't wait until it is too late.

Check Threads out for a sobering view of nuclear war and what can happen. It can be viewed on YouTube in its entirety.

Ultimate Family Preparedness Pak

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