Saturday, November 17, 2012

I Will Only Fear the Atomic Holocaust If It Is Not Telecast by Danny Doom: Part Two

Two versions of this movie exist. The link above is for the remake, which I haven't ever been able to watch. Do yourself a favour and find the one with Walter Matthau and Henry Fonda from 1964. It begins at a dinner party, a well dressed consultant speculating on 60 versus 100 million dead theorizes nuclear war survivors being a group of prison convicts versus file clerks.Who will win? All in good fun he says, but for him, merely a lie be told to the unaware. Later on the drive home he takes a woman to the brink of orgasm by describing her armageddon fantasy to her. The loss of this scene in the remake means it just doesn't work for me, extra points if you can guess why it was cut. Each scene in the movie exists to forward an idea, each one builds on the other. People and  their perspectives of how they deal with what turns out to be a very bad day. The movie works slowly, but builds itself by generating real emotion to what is happening and who it is happening to. The central theme of this movie is the danger of the terrible accident sparking the nuclear war, but around this core the tapestry of issues woven by the story are complex and emotional, and truly about the people within it. 

This movie offers a great deal of deliberation and philosophy, its slow moving. Yet that's the essential beauty of the whole story, the exposition is meant to make these people more than just soldiers or statesmen. Rather they are real people faced with the moment of agonizing and horrible choices which they have talked about for so long, only to be reduced by the moment to silence, or brief moments of connection with strangers who mere hours before were simply enemies. However if I have anything to say about this movie, it is that its ending is a happy one. By this I mean you'll be happy that it's over so you can go outside, read a book, see a friend, play music or watch the way water boils. Anything to remind yourself that it's just a movie.

I have tried several times to start how to review this movie. Each time I put it on for ten or fifteen minutes at a time and watch. Then I have to stop writing, or watching and do something else. This movie is so painful and depressing, but it is by far the best movie about nuclear war. You can think of James and Hilda Bloggs as mere simpletons. But you begin to play with the reflections, and all of the sudden you realize these are not hopeless people, but a representation of all of us, or of people you know and loved. I always see them as a mixture of my grandparents. You realize for people trapped in the insanity of nuclear horror only sympathy or pain can be felt. That this is not a noble ending, but a brutal one, or an agonizing one.

 Ultimately, these kind and simple people should not have to ever live in a world where something so mind defying and utterly violent as nuclear weapons exists. If Fail Safe was the statesman's struggle to define a world of nuclear war, and the terrors it brings this is the attempt from the rest of us. The theme of both movies is a quiet almost prayerful plea, an admission that we are not ready to handle or control these forces. That they may spiral out of control all too quickly, and leave us in a strange gulf where we no longer know how to live.

I couldn't end this review without one final thought. HP Lovecraft in his genius envisioned a terrifying power called Azathoth, a nuclear chaos demon god which spawned all the other horrors of his pantheon. The demon god which devours all at the end within the maw of madness. Devouring to the sound of horrible piping flutes. Flutes which drive those who hear them mad. As much as we know the horror which full scale nuclear war would unleash, the millions dead, the planet destroyed. Another part of us has a strange lust for it. The way it would feel, the power we'd have if we were the ones choosing to decide when the world would die. After all the joy of power in possessing an ultimate weapon is in its use.  We as human beings are not beyond this. I've linked one of the better articles on nuclear war below however my own reaction to one paragraph is what interests and scares me personally.

I had seen some of the smaller bombs myself, H-bombs with an explosive yield of 1.1 megatons each—equivalent to 1.1 million tons of high explosive, each bomb half the total explosive power of all the bombs of World War II combined. I saw them slung under single-pilot F-100 fighter-bombers on alert at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, ready to take off on 10 minutes’ notice. On one occasion I had laid my hand on one of these, not yet loaded on a plane. On a cool day, the smooth metallic surface of the bomb was warm from the radiation within: a bodylike warmth.
My only thought to this is:  I want to touch a nuclear weapon too!

-Danny Doom

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