Made-for-tv film (1983). ABC. Directed by Nicholas Meyer. Written by Edward Hume. Cast includes Steven Guttenberg, Lori Lethin, John Lithgow, Jason Robards, Jo-Beth Williams and William Allen Young. 121 minutes. Colour.
Set in Lawrence, Kansas, the film tells of a massive nuclear exchange between the USA and USSR. Many of the missiles hit Kansas and Missouri, targeted because of their numerous Minuteman silos. The Day After opens a week before nuclear World War Three begins, and ends around six weeks later. The film instantly became a media event, and was hugely publicized and discussed. It was widely – justly but irrelevantly – criticized, especially abroad, for its soap-opera treatment. Meyer's purpose was to bring home a propaganda message to ordinary people, which is precisely what soap-opera characters are perceived to be by most viewers. The film, as the final titles tell us, does give a remarkably mild account of the consequences of atomic war, gruelling though it is. Nevertheless, it was an act of courage for ABC to make this expensive film at all, since nuclear issues at that time were barely touched on by US television, being unattractive to advertisers, and the nuclear debate was probably quite foreign to many viewers. Also, The Day After could hardly be seen as apolitical (despite disclaimers by ABC executives): Meyer said "the movie tells you that civil defence is useless", and observed that ABC gave him "millions of dollars to go on prime-time television and call Ronald Reagan a liar". Much of the film is routine in treatment if not subject matter, but it contains several outstanding sequences: the housewife who won't go into the cellar until she finishes cleaning the house; the lecture to increasingly furious farmers about implausible methods of "decontaminating soil"; a street packed with radiation victims on makeshift mattresses as far as the eye can see. [PN]
see also: Cinema.
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