Tuesday 8 January 2013

Top 100 disaster films: Threads

Threads (1984)

Threads is the single most devastating film I have ever seen. It's impossible to imagine anyone not being affected by it. By rights it should make everyone who views it be sick. I imagine that, in countless cases, it did. But years of watching cartoon violence has desensitised me to such horrors. But I certainly couldn't get an erection during this film. A powerful statement indeed.

Threads is the story of thermonuclear war, specifically the story of surviving the experience. There is a certain amount of preamble, of course, shot in the style of a good old fashioned kitchen sink British drama. However, being set in Sheffield, many of the pre-bomb depictions of day-to-day life are as bleak as the after segment. Nevertheless, it's difficult to see how you could come out of the experience of watching Threads without the very firm idea that the former is preferable to the latter.

The early part of the film is something of a gritty morality tale. It's the story of Jimmy and Ruth. Ruth has been knocked up by Jimmy doing a sex up her and now they are planning to marry. As their families adjust to this news, we hear vague leakages of a building Cold War confrontation, much of which is ignored by the people who are tied up with their own problems and daily lives. In many ways, the atomic bomb was the salvation of this film, which would have been achingly tedious without it.

Ruth: chin up, love

When it does drop, however, it does not prove to be the salvation for most of its characters, many of whom catch fire or succumb to grotesque radiation sickness. Somehow surviving the blasts, Ruth now has to live in rather reduced circumstances - even for Yorkshire - as food riots, martial law and nuclear winter become the order of the day. It is by far and away the most stark and terrifying vision of the world I've ever seen committed to celluloid, a hundred times worse than even your most awful dreams. It also makes me wonder how many other bloody awful dreary films might be improved by a sudden and cataclysmic outbreak of hostilities. Sliding Doors would be at the very top of this list, of course, with the proviso that all the main characters died in the blast and we watched this happen, with lingering close-ups of their confusion and pain.

This is probably a vast, sweeping generalisation but in my own personal experience, American people are more emotionally straightforward and open than the British. The 1983 American film on the effects and aftermath of a thermonuclear conflict, The Day After, was viewed by 100 million people including the then-US President Ronald Reagan. He wrote in his diary that it left him feeling "greatly depressed". As it would. Four years later, after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union - a document which completely eliminated all intermediate-range nuclear and conventional ballistic missiles of the two Cold War superpowers - Reagan sent The Day After's director Nicholas Meyers a telegram saying that his film had played a part in it.

There are no such records as to whether or not Margaret Thatcher ever saw Threads, nor if she had have done that it played any part in shaping national defence policy. I like to imagine that she watched it, shat in her fucking pants and then, still chuckling at the images of the proletariat burning, phoned Ronnie up and asked him to send a few dozen more Cruise missiles over to be kept at our airfields.

Pisswoman: not mentioning her at all

Threads is a film that everybody should see once. Seeing it more than that is likely to do long-lasting psychological damage. I'm not even joking. It is brutal, unrelenting, chilling and brilliant. I'm giving it TEN out of ten. That's right. And I managed to write this whole thing without even mentioning the bit where the woman pisses herself.

You can watch the whole thing here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It can also be seen as a very heavy-handed metaphor about the then Tory government's destruction of industry in the North in the early 80s, or indeed what happened to society (the threads in the title) over the same period


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