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I was a kid in Atlanta during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I was sure we were all doomed. When this film came on TV, I had three children, none of whom was old enough to watch it (though my oldest tells me now he sneaked out of bed and saw some of it). The next day I told my oldest boy (age 10) that, if he ever heard the bombs were coming, to go to his little brother's classroom (his little brother was six) and stay with him so they wouldn't die alone. I figured I'd be home with my two-year-old, so the two of us would be together. Ironically, almost 20 years later, my two-year-old was a university student who called me in tears the morning of 9/11, sure the world was going to end. Her brother was in the air force in the same city (preparing for drills to get them ready for action in Afghanistan, as I later learned). I called him but I only got his answering machine. But I told him, "Call your sister as soon as you can and convince her everything is going to be all right. I don't know if it really is or not, but convince her that it will be." In short, raising children in these modern times seems as much planning for death as it is planning for life, and this movie really hit close to home.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I didn't see 'The Day After' until I was about 18 because my parents
wouldn't let me see it when it first ran on TV (I was about 13 at that
time). In between, I saw the other, far more graphic 'nuclear' movie -
Threads - in the UK, and while that one was largely superior to 'The
Day After' in terms of stark realism, 'The Day After' still has a lot
of positives to be said about it. There are actually quite a few
similarities to 'Threads'.
'The Day After' begins in Lawrence, KS, on the border with Kansas City, Missouri and the state line. Lawrence is home to the U of Kansas, while Kansas City also has a USAF base nearby and more than 125 ICBM missile silos extending along the state border southward. The movie follows primarily one family - the Dahlbergs, whose oldest daughter, Denise, is preparing for her upcoming wedding. This was not unlike 'Threads' which also followed two characters who were about to be married, and both their families. However, in 'The Day After' we only see Denise's fiancé a few times; no mention is made of his family. The other character this movie follows is Dr. Oakes (Jason Robards), chief of surgery at the small U of Kansas hospital, along with RN Nancy Bauer (JoBeth Williams of 'Poltergeist').
Similar to the storyline of 'Threads', problems begin when the aggressive USSR sends tanks & troops to the border of West Berlin. The Russians then decide to march right into West Germany, and at one point they deploy a nuclear missile against a West German city. This is followed by the apparent evacuation of Moscow (likely planning that NATO will counterattack with nuclear weapons?). Most of the characters go about their lives not paying much attention to the overseas trouble, but some, like the Dahlbergs, start constructing makeshift fallout shelters in their basements. Others start hitchhiking out of town. Things quickly escalate when Russian ships strike an American one in the Persian Gulf. The Americans strike back by sinking a Russian ship, and then air burst a series of low-yield nuclear weapons over advancing Soviet troops in West Germany. Now the B-52 bombers are deployed, and the U.S. President quickly starts direct communication with the Soviet Premier. However, the Russian ploy to buy time is revealed when a Soviet ICBM hits NATO regional military headquarters in western Europe. Then the order to launch the ICBMs at the USSR comes, and one at a time, the missile silos along the state line unleash their deadly weaponry. Civilians who see the missiles don't think much of it until senior officers of the USAF, from a command aircraft, track more than 300 Soviet ICBMs headed for the United States! The air-raid sirens sound around Kansas City & Lawrence, and panic breaks out! People are clawing & trampling each other in their fight for survival. Minutes later the electromagnetic pulse knocks out electrical systems - from car batteries & clocks to lighting in an O.R during closure of a patient. Dr. Oakes is on the freeway when he sees the bright flash of the first ICBM hit Kansas City, and then the horrible mushroom cloud rising over the downtown area - 'as if the sun exploded'. People close to the blast site die immediately, but others are subjected to the deadly threat of radioactive fallout, long after the fires are out. Now, the Dahlbergs, Dr. Oakes, and others must try to survive in a world of radioactivity, scant electricity, disease, and an extreme shortage of safe food and water.
Considering that the filmmakers had to use their own special effects for some of the attack footage, they did reasonably well. The 2 mushroom clouds appearing over Kansas City appeared fairly realistic, and the explosions & waves of fire - some of which appears to be Defense Department footage - were also quite realistic. While I considered the attack scenes of 'Threads' to be more realistic, the filmmakers have done a respectable job here. Director Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country) has kept things fairly well-paced. It moves at a pace comparable to 'Threads' and the crisis that prompted the attack - Soviet invasion of western Europe - was not entirely far-fetched, given the behavior of some former Soviet leaders.
The only thing I was disappointed in was that it did not extend the story even a year later - when one might expect to see the results of a nuclear winter. Although there is a hint of the future for Denise - after she exposes herself to a probably lethal dose of radioactive fallout - she is seen in a gym being used as a hospital, minus most of her hair, skin deteriorating, and apparently ill with leukemia. A hint of the future appears again, right at the end, as a man calls into a radio, 'This is Lawrence, Kansas. Is anybody there?'. This was something covered quite well in 'Threads', extending 13 years into the future.
This one gets a 7/10 for doing a reasonable job with somewhat limited resources. It was unquestionably a scenario that had to be told, to be explained to the public just exactly WHAT the true horrific effects of a full nuclear strike against the United States would be. The filmmakers wisely emphasized at the end that the events shown in the film would in fact be less severe than an actual full nuclear strike. So far, we have managed to avoid a 'Day After'-type scenario. However, with the threat of fanatical terrorists, this threat is raising its ugly head once again. While the storyline may be somewhat dated, the events it portrays are not.
Tonight I saw this movie again on TVLand. I remember watching the movie in the 8th grade. We had to get permission slips signed by our parents to watch it in our own homes. Seems kind of funny now. I really did not like it when I watched it the first time. I think as a young child I did not appreciate it. Now as I look at it, the movie has moments that are not exactly quality moments. I also think the movie over played the fact that if a nuclear attack occurs people revert to a caveman state void of language skills. In recent times we have learned that in difficult times people usually perform at their best. Back, to the movie. I really think it is a good reminder of how much we need to prepare for disasters. Back then the threats was nuclear now the fear is biological. I hope the movie never comes true but it does give me lots to think about.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I also watched this during the premiere on ABC in November 1983. I also have the DVD. And it's still just as riveting as it was in it's first showing. I live 80 miles south of the #2 target in the country. Minuteman silos outside of Great Falls. Which had the ABC station that showed the film. So I know how terrifying the possibility of nuclear war was at the time. The film itself is still riveting in it's story. How one town is affected by a nuclear attack. It's only flaw is the use of made-for-TV characters. And dialogue that would make you think this is 'Plot Advancement Playhouse'. Albeit the news broadcasts do make this more suspenseful. As for the attack itself, pretty good. Considering that they used red ink squeezed up into a fish tank with a syringe to create the mushroom clouds. I won't criticize the depiction of mass vaporizations, since it would have been too fast to be seen in real time. Nor the use of test footage. I just wished the shots they used matched up a little better. But still a very intense experience more than 20 years later.
I remember when this movie came out on television when I was a child.
It was the early 80's. Like 1983. I remember seeing the commercials for
it and it scared the hell out of me. I would close my eyes, and hold my
breath. I didn't want to look at it. Suffice to say I never watched it.
But the images in those commercials were so powerful. What I saw of
them at least. They stayed with me, FOREVER. I had always wondered
about that movie. What I had missed, experienced, could have learned.
It became like a looming ghost floating in the back of my mind.
Really, that is how powerful, and scary those images were to me. So I'm in a retail store yesterday that sells DVDs, low and behold there is The Day After for like 10 dollars. I held the DVD in my hand looking down at the cover with the big nuclear mushroom cloud. I could feel that same feeling in the pit of my stomach as I had as a child. Amazing how something could have such an impact on you when you've never even seen it. I looked from side to side like I was holding something taboo. I thought to myself I'm grown up now I can watch, don't be a baby! So I clenched it in my hands, walked to the register, and purchased it. Oh my God...!
I am so glad I did not watch this movie when I was kid. Honestly I think it would have screwed me up psychologically. It is probably one the most real made for TV movies I've ever seen. The special effects while by todays standards are, eh. But a nuclear explosion is a nuclear explosion. You pretty much get the gist regardless of how much the effects cost to produce. Worked for me! A little too well I'd say. This is a gut wrenching, sad movie that makes you think on so many levels. It makes you think how we take so many things for granted.
The frightening reality is we live in a world that actually does harbor these weapons that are pretty much controlled by madmen. It shows that we are all pretty much sitting ducks. That is scary! Unless we start to do something, such as taking back our control of the Govt, and our world. We will always be in that position. I think this is a very poignant film for our times, and needs to be revisited once again. I think every high school teacher should show this film to their classes. I will never forget this movie. It was unbelievable, and has changed my life...FOREVER!
Yes, this movie was indeed disturbing, but needed to be made during the age when Russia was still a threat. Of course, the main event in the movie must never happen, and now with terrorists the enemy instead of Russia, the threat still is there, so the movie still has value, even though the "Cold War" technically is over with the Soviet Union. Now we have such wonderful adversaries as North Korea and China, that have taken Russia's place. Not to mention the terrorist network who can go out and buy a suitcase bomb. So, unfortunately, the nuclear threat still exists (thankfully to a lesser extent) but the American public shouldn't be too complacent when there are people in the world who would destroy us if they could using means similar to what was presented in the movie. The first time I watched this movie, it bothered me for a few days after. Quite powerful, but necessary.
I can remember the controversy surrounding this movie...I was in the 6th grade. Teachers were telling us not to watch this movie by ourselves, and we had discussion groups about it the next day. I couldn't remember what all the furor was about then, but I can now....Cinemax recently played this movie, and I watched it for the first time since 1983. How I wasn't scared beyond belief is amazing...this is the first highly accurate portrayal of what things would be like if a nuclear war had occurred. Depictions of the airbursts and nuclear protocol were spot on, almost as if watching a documentary. At the end, the credits state; "The catastrophic events you have just witnessed are in all likelihood, less severe than what would occur in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States". Lets all be thankful that we never had to face that. If you need to review early 80's nuclear fear, check this movie out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear war was not a new theme at the
time this movie came out. This was, however, one of the first films to
deal with it in such a graphic manner. Consequently, it made for a most
The movie is really divided into three parts. The first part, the "day before" as it were, sets up the situation of a rapidly deteriorating diplomatic situation between the USA and the Soviet Union. While that is happening, we are introduced to the main characters of the movie. Dr. Russell Oakes (Jason Robards) is chief surgeon at a hospital in Lawrence, Kansas. His wife, Helen (Georgann Johnson), worries aloud as to whether or not the Soviet Union will bomb the USA. Meanwhile, on a farm outside of Lawrence, the Dahlbergs, Jim (John Cullum) and Eve (Bibi Besch) are preparing for the wedding of their daughter, Denise (Lori Lethin). And a soldier tries to prepare his wife for the worst, should it happen. The second part, the "day of" starts with the silos actually launching nuclear weapons at the Soviet Union. Panic ensues in Lawrence as the population realizes that the Soviet bombs are on their way. And then the bombs hit, and we watch destruction of many kinds on a massive scale. The third part, the actual "day after" takes place in the aftermath of the bombing. Society as we know it has been obliterated. Power, food, and clean water are unavailable. Dr. Oakes finds his way to the hospital eventually, only to become sick with both radiation and exhaustion trying to treat people in the aftermath of the bombing. The Dahlbergs hide in their basement, are stumbled upon by a survivor named Stephen Klein (Steve Guttenberg), who eventually takes Denise and her brother, Danny (Doug Scott) to the hospital when they are in need of medical attention. However, as the movie progresses it is clear that there is little that can be done for them. The rules of society dissolve under the pressure to survive and by the end it is kill or be killed. In the final scene, Dr. Oakes returns to the rubble that once was his house, and finds his wife's watch. Crying, "Helen!" he breaks down, showing the ultimate realization that his old life is gone for good.
This was a disturbing film, and no effort was made to sugar coat it. If anything, it underplayed the severity of such a happening. Still, it presents a grim portrait of what could happen if we're not careful, and as such, that is commendable. My only real complaint is that John Dahlberg's behavior seems out of character when he comes upon the squatters on his land. It seems more likely he would have fired the first shot, rather than try to reason with them and allow himself to be killed. Otherwise, there's not much to find fault with. This is a grim subject, and it was handled with appropriate starkness.
The acting in the movie was fairly good. Robards was always a talented performer, and he gives the same commitment to his role in this film. JoBeth Williams also turns in a fine performance on one of her last films before she became a well known star. The rest of the performances tend to be a little more bland, but then the cautionary tale of what could happen was more important in this movie, hence the lack of well known star power.
The depiction of the bombing was dazzling - a series of images, each more disturbing than the one before, coming at you without a break in between, without dialogue, without stop until the silence after the last bomb has fallen. Chillingly effective.
This was a movie that wanted to catch the collective conscience of the American public, and at the time, I think it did just that. It is perhaps not the best movie ever made, but it is certainly one of the most important.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This *could* happen - still! This film is the story of the day of the nuclear exchange between the US and the Russians (but there are plenty of other missiles around the world now). The story occurs mainly in Kansas, and begins by telling a little about this idyllic place before it is noticed that US nuclear-tipped ICBMs are all leaving their silos on their one-way trip. Soon, the Russian missiles begin to impact the area and the remainder of the story is, of course, about the survivors. Jason Robards and Steve Guttenberg star in this well-done film. I think it should be required viewing for everyone in a country that has nuclear missiles. It shows the horror that awaits the survivors, who soon begin to realize that the millions who were vaporized by the blasts are the lucky ones. This is scarier than any horror movie because it could still come true.
The Day After (1983) was one of the biggest made-for-T.V. movies to
ever hit the small screen in the United States. This softened view of
the aftermath of a thermonuclear conflict caused alarm and panic in the
U.S. during the early 80's. After this film was aired many people
finally realized the true horror of a nuclear war (albeit a tamed,
sanitized view). No matter what this movie is entertaining and a
perfect way to rattle the nerves of the uninitiated. Nicolas Meyer used
what he had to create a very bleak and hopeless vision of the survivors
The problem I had with this movie was that it seemed rushed because of the multitude of characters and splintered story lines. They should have fleshed it out over a two night period for maximum effect. Now that would have been "Must seen T.V." Jason Robards jr. stars as a doctor who witnesses the horrors first hand as one of the few that remains to treat the ever growing casualties, Steve Guttenberg as a college student (pre-med) Jo Beth Williams as an R.N., Amy Madigan as a woman in labor and John Lithgow as a college professor.
Many scenes from this movie will be burned forever in the back of your mind. I was one of the fortunate to have watch this movie live. I remembered at a certain point in the movie their were no commercials. That added to the effect and it made the rest of the viewing quite eerie. I will never forget THE DAY AFTER.
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