Sunday, May 25, 2008


Testament is a lesser known film that should stand with the likes of Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe and the War Game as essential films about the dreadful, yet fascinating, subject of nuclear war. Testament nicely complements these classics, with its focus on a single family.

The movie is set in a fictional San Francisco exurb, far enough away to avoid any blast damage, but close enough to lose family members and to fall under radioactive fallout. With the exception of a flash of light, we never see any of the physical effects of the bomb. Instead, the focus is on the emotional, as the radiation slowly kills the town. The movie is as understated as is possible. There are no explosions, no riots, and no (physical) violence.

Coming within a year of each other, Testament is likely to be compared to the Day After. The image I recall is the jogger vaporized by the atomic blast wave. From Testament, I will always remember a mother telling her dying daughter what it is like to be in love. The focus is entirely on the emotional and daily lives of the survivors. We see them as they face the realization that they are unlikely to survive, and they press on with what is left.

Unlike most nuclear war films, there is little to no suspense. There is no attempts to stop or mitigate the bomb damage. The war just happens and it is never clear why. In truth it doesn't matter. There is no horror either, at least, not psychological or physical horror. There is a kind of spiritual horror as the characters try to deal with impending doom.

While from a movie perspective, it is closest to On the Beach, I think it is best compared to Connie Willis's the Doomsday Book, another book which focuses on grappling with an impossible situation. This movie is recommended to all.

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