War Chronicles | Threads (1984) Terrifying Nuclear Holocaust

Threads is a 1984 BBC Television movie which shook the world by its brutally realistic Portrayal of a Nuclear War and the soon to follow Nuclear Winter.  In a poll done by Barbican Center(Home to London Cinematic Orchestra) British Nationals voted this movie among “Ten Films That Shook Our World”.  Ian Islington commenting on the movie for the poll says:

“I was 11 and I’d only recently found out about nuclear weapons before this  came along and gave me nightmares for months. Makes The Road look like Mary Poppins by comparison. This marked the end of childhood for me, suddenly waking up to the horrors of the adult world. Nothing like it had ever been attempted before and nothing was left to the imagination.
I’ve not had the guts to re-watch it since as the image of a woman giving birth and cutting her own cord with her teeth is still burned into my mind for ever. Brutal but no regrets I saw it. Nuclear weapons are still just as abundant today as in 1984 and with North Korea in 2016, maybe it’s time this got a timely reissue.” (source)

The impact it made on the people’s mind was apparent when after the press screening of the Movie the Audience silently shuffled out of the theater. The director of the movie Mick Jackson recalled: while BBC productions would usually be followed by phone calls of congratulations from friends or colleagues immediately after airing, no such calls came after the first screening of Threads. Jackson later “realized… that people had just sat there thinking about it, in many cases not sleeping or being able to talk.”

 

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Threads Intro

As someone who loves watching Horror Movies and a huge fan of the supernatural genre. I can safely say I have never been horrified of the specters and ghouls as much as the Humans terrifies me in movies like Threads,  Schindler’s List , The Day After among others. The horrors that humans unfold on each other are much-much worse.

Threads start on a light note with a couple living in Sheffield Britain, Young lovers Ruth (Karen Meagher) and Jimmy (Reece Dinsdale) decide to get married after Ruth unexpectedly gets pregnant. Although the world is on the brink of a nuclear war, they decides to live their life to the fullest. We are also introduced to the families of Ruth and Jimmy. With two siblings Jimmy lives very close to a military air field. Throughout this we are also shown and introduced to bits and pieces of happenings across the world. There is tension in Middle East as Russian forces invades Iran. War is brimming. USA gives an ultimatum of war for one week if Russia does not stop. Unfortunately the world of Ruth and Jimmie turns upside down. As the nuclear was soon starts and unleashes hell upon their world. Their World is transformed overnight as more than two Hundred Megatons of Nuclear warheads are detonated across Northern Britain. The sudden destruction is recorded as a montage so harrowing and brutal that it could scare the hell out of you. And that is just the starting.

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Mr and Mrs. Kemp- Jimmies Parents in Threads -1984

If you want to watch the movie , I would highly recommend this movie. Hell every politician in this world needs to be strapped on his/her chair and forced to watch it. But its a fair warning, this movie can destroy you and create your life miserable for days to come. If you think you cannot digest it, check out the Nuclear Explosion scene below:

 

Mick Jackson cleverly executes the explosion scene.  He shows what needs to be shown, holds nothing back. No wonder this gave People nightmares when it was first shown and it was supposed to. He shows the human side of the town. He has no need of a long shot of nuclear explosion to scare us.  The woman could pees herself after witnessing it through her eyes. We need not linger on to the moment when we can witness it through the real witnesses. Mr and Mrs Kemp(Jimmie’s Parents are trying hard to build up a makeshift shelter. Both of their children are missing. But they cannot just leave to find them. Mick Jackson never holds back, whether showing up a dying cat or burned up humans. He does it all and most of it with a shoe string budget. The brilliant shot of milk bottles melting down shows us the amount of heat explosion carries. He places the shots of milk bottles before it(multiple times) so that we recognize that part of montage quickly. But the scariest thing among all death and destruction is the dead would be the lucky ones.


The truth is always very harsh and the truth behind this movie was the ever lasting fear of a nuclear War eminent at the time of cold war. Imagine living in fear daily of a war breaking out between two nations that could potentially destroy the world and then witnessing this on television. I would be intensely scared.

In 1982, Mick Jackson produced and directed a short documentary for the BCC’s QED science program called A Guide to Nuclear Armageddon. The short film approached the subject from the point of a view of regular people.What would happen if a bomb exploded over London? What could normal people do? How could they survive?

The program was a hit, and the BBC wanted more from Jackson, so he traveled around Britain and America for the next year researching the effects of nuclear war.He consulted with scientists such as Carl Sagan and took copious notes. When he got home, he called up writer Barry Hines and the two created a dreadful misery of a two-hour made-for-TV-docudrama called Threads.

It is now almost 40 years since the invention of nuclear weapons. We have not yet experienced a global thermonuclear war — although on more than one occasion we have come tremulously close. I do not think our luck can hold forever. Men and machines are fallible, as recent events remind us. Fools and madmen do exist, and sometimes rise to power. Concentrating always on the near future, we have ignored the long-term consequences of our actions. We have placed our civilization and our species in jeopardy. Fortunately, it is not yet too late. We can safeguard the planetary civilization and the human family if we so choose. There is no more important or more urgent issue.

Carl Sagan in his Paper : – The Nuclear Winter: The World After Nuclear War (link to the paper)


The style of the movie : that of a fictional documentary provides a contrast to a few scenes of the movie. While some scenes feel highly personal and motivated. They are suddenly struck with a monotonous broadcast of news. The flashing text of a typewriter appears out of nowhere with practical numbers and statistics. This makes you wonder is the world just a statistic. Almost 9 million died in the first explosion the facts proclaim. But was the child we just saw outside playing among those 9 million? Is every life just a demographic number to the world. The emergency war time counselor of Sheffield has to make some harsh moves for the survival of Britain.

Lady with her dead child- Threads

Threads not only comments on the human loss at the advent of a nuclear war. It also shows the socioeconomic affect of such war. The movie leads to a feeling of nothingness. In a recent study (2014) scientists used models to imagine a small scale nuclear war among India And Pakistan and found that it could lead to intense famine and death and a nuclear winter which could stretch years leading to permanent effects on Earth’s global climate. (source)

In Threads: the nuclear destruction is not the end of it. Pregnant Ruth finds herself after the explosion stuck in a crumbling society. Nuclear Fall out appears, dust settles in and in a state of utter despair when her parents ask her to eat something for the sake of upcoming child shge says:

Ruth Beckett: [crying] I can’t care about this baby anymore, I wish she was dead.
Mrs. Beckett: Oh Ruth! Don’t say things like that.
Ruth Beckett: There’s no point! There’s no point with Jimmy dead.
Mrs. Beckett: But you don’t know…
Ruth Beckett: He is! He is! I KNOW he is!
Mrs. Beckett: Can’t be certain.
Ruth Beckett: Everything in all this radiation, all the time my baby!

She does give birth to a healthy daughter, but it comes after facing intense difficulties. In an extremely disturbing scene we can see Ruth begging for some rats to eat.

Nuclear Fall out is not the only thing that is dangerous in the circumstances. Government rations off the food and many people die of starvation. Looting starts across the country. In another scene we are shown after the explosion some police officers catches a couple of thugs looting from Dead people and empty homes. In a turn of events though the police after catching them takes the stolen goods for themselves and check the bodies of dead.

Ruth Eats dead raw lamb

Dirty, bloodied bandages cover limbs and faces. A sob breaks through the crowd. Women wail. Men beg. There is no hope here.

“By this time, without drugs, water or bandages. Without electricity or medical support facilities there is virtually no way a doctor can exercise his skill,” the narrator explains while the camera pans over the faces of the wretched and dying.

The movie never holds back after the explosion. Soon Ruth gives birth to her daughter. Jane is perfectly all right. The movie then has a time skip. Due to high UV radiation after Fall Out most people have cataract. With one eye lost Ruth and Jane works hard in agriculture. Trying to revive whatever dead radioactive soil they can. Civilization is slowly taking its shape back to original. The scene changes to next day, Ruth is lying on the bed Jane tries to wake up. the words that come out of her mouth send a chill down my spine.  “Ruth. Up. Work. Ruth,”  But it’s not just the words that has the effect on me. It is the emotionless facade(see below) that she is donning and the lack of language this society is rising into.

Jane tries to rise Ruth

The social impact is imminent in this scene and the following scene many adults and children are sitting in a damaged hall watching a recording of children’s program on television learning words. The language dies with the speakers. Its destruction of language and culture that is striking in this scene. The long lasting effects of a nuclear War is not just medical, but cultural too. The impact could be hart to revive from. Jane runs away in search of food after the scene. She starts stealing food with a couple of men. But the world has gone putrid. She soon finds herself pregnant with a child.

In the last scene of the movie which I will never forget. Jane arrives in a hospital saying just these words : “Babby n’Commin” The nurse while treating a patient replies “There is no time for babies here, Go Away” But she keeps repeating the word and collapses. The scene changes to Jane in a hospital gown on a bed. The nurse arrives with a child bundled in a piece of cloth and handles it over to Jane. She takes it over. And then she sees something. Her eyes bulges out of the socket and she shrieks, the screen fades away…

We don’t need to know what was wrong with the baby. We just don’t want to know. We as a viewer can’t take more and the movie settles into the minds of all the viewers as something they will never ever forget in life.

Famous novelist Russell Hoban in a review of the movie in famous Journal The Listener remarks:

This is not a film to be reviewed as a film; its art is that it cancels all aesthetic distance between our unthinking and the unthinkable: here is the death of our life and the birth of a new life for our children, a life … of slow death by radiation sickness and plagues and starvation and quick death by violence….. Russel Hobain ~The Listener

With more than 15000 Nuclear Weapons across the world of which almost 90% belong to USA and Russia there is still debate going on the ethics of the use of Nuclear warhead in any kind of war. We have to stop and look around the world. Observe think of the long term issues and discuss. This is high time for it. This was very hard for me to write. I watched this movie two days ago and still some scenes are going through my mind. I don’t think i can sleep this off so easily.

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