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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Threads (1984)



Reviews and Comments

I was completely unprepared for how wrenching and relentless Threads is. It delivers a frighteningly realistic account of what it would be like to live through a nuclear holocaust and the weeks, months, even years following. It is told in a documentary-like fashion, as if a couple guys with cameras were following people through actual events. The first third sets the stage just enough for us to get to know a small number of characters, important not so much in their individuality as their universality. These people are us, our neighbors, everyone we know. That the film pays the same close attention to them as others who only occupy single scenes solidifies this potent impression.

When the disaster hits, the film takes no time to offer broad views of the calamity: we see only the incomplete fragments that the characters see. Quickly, they retreat to inadequate shelters and endure burn wounds, radiation sickness, hunger, and thirst, and that's just for the first days. As the days turn to weeks and then to months, a new society must form somehow.

Periodically, the film will back away from the emotional closeness of the plights of the characters with brief narrated segments, which inform us about the broader picture. The news the narrator has to deliver gets more and more bleak, yet these segments come as relief, as it provides a brief reprieve from our closeness with the events on the screen.

This is not the sort of movie one enjoys. It is, however, edifying and perhaps even ennobling. I emerged from Threads and its final indelible image with a great sigh of relief, but I was glad to have seen it. The Cold War is over now, but the threat of nuclear war remains, waxing and waning with the times. It is important to know what that means. But, arguably more importantly, the lessons of this film may be more directly applied to daily life. Would that we all understood them.