The Day After (1983)
Reviewed on 2008 November 16
Unrelentingly grim ’80s movie about the after-effect of nuclear war, seen through the eyes of several people living in flyover country (i.e., us). It hit me pretty hard when I first saw it as a kid but like all kids, I thought I was invincible. My sister-in-law always said she wanted to be at ground zero if we were hit; I thought I’d want to fight another day. After watching this again as an adult, I think I’m on her side.
Several residents of Lawrence, Kansas are trying to go about their lives and tune out the ominous news broadcasts about tensions heating up between America and the Soviets. The Dahlbergs are preparing for the wedding of their daughter Denise (Lori Lethin). Dr. Russell Oakes (Jason Robards) is juggling his schedule at the hospital and trying to cope with his adult daughter moving further away from the nest. His wife Helen (Georgann Johnson) is trying to ignore the special reports that keep crawling across the TV, calming herself by remembering how the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved. That’s why this has such a kick-in-the-gut factor for me; the normalcy of life for ordinary citizens until the Minute Man missile silos open.
Some critics had problems with how oblivious a lot of people seemed to what was going on until the impact, but that didn’t phase me. There’s a lot of comfort, misguided though it is, in trying to slog along as though nothing is happening. My nit to pick with this is the overdramatic bit with the Dahlberg family dog, barking for his people outside their shelter. They should have picked another family to make this point. I understand a man sacrificing everything else for his family, but I can’t believe a tough, on-the-ball farmer like Jim Dahlberg wouldn’t have planned for his beloved dog and herded him into the bunker too. All the people in Shukti’s family that have pets consider them to be adopted fuzzy children, and the Dahlberg clan would’ve instinctively gotten ol’ Rusty to safety. Other than that this movie works because we can picture nuclear war being like this, only worse. The aftermath of devastation, riots, panic and groups of people pulling together to survive was effective
Three chocolate morsels. Maybe if every world leader lived like most of us peons, at ground zero in house with no bunkers, there’s be less potential for this.