Feeling down? Need something to pick you up, lift your spirits? Then don’t watch this movie.
I saw this many years ago, but it was on TV. It’s Testament, from 1983, featuring some notable players. Now it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and I gave it another look. Heads up, this is about the aftereffects of a nuclear war, and you can believe it when I hint things are not going to end well. Details are from Wikipedia. Here are some of the players.
- Jane Alexander as Carol Wetherly
- William Devane as Tom Wetherly
- Ross Harris as Brad Wetherly
- Roxana Zal as Mary Liz Wetherly
- Lukas Haas as Scottie Wetherly
- Philip Anglim as Hollis
- Lilia Skala as Fania
- Leon Ames as Henry Abhart
- Lurene Tuttle as Rosemary Abhart
- Rebecca De Mornay as Cathy Pitkin
- Kevin Costner as Phil Pitkin
- Mako as Mike
The opening scene dates this production. Yes, that’s a tape cassette, and it’s playing Carol Wetherly’s wake up routine.
Carol lives in Hamelin, California, I’m guessing named after the German village of story book legend. Carol’s husband Tom is taking their son Brad for a morning bike ride.
Carol coaxes daughter Liz in her piano practice.
Tom and Brad converse on their ride with Mike and his son Hiroshi, who is depicted as being autistic.
And that was the first day. The second day Tom returns to work in San Francisco, and that’s the last we see of him, except in flashbacks from home movies. Brad phones. He will be late. Don’t hold dinner. He phones again. Good news. He’s leaving early. All this caught after the fact on the answering machine.
Waiting for Tom to come home, the family watches some low level entertainment on TV.
And just like that, the outside world goes away for good.
A massive nuclear strike has devastated all major centers in the country. Then there is a blinding flash, and Carol huddles the kids on the floor. But no blast wave hits. All electric power, all telephone connection, all commercial radio and TV are out. Only communication by short wave radio links them to the rest of the world. And that is sparse.
People of the town gather in the church and resolve to pull through.
But people begin to die. Carol bathes her youngest, Scottie, as he succumbs to diarrhea from radiation poisoning. Then she frantically searches for his missing stuffed bear as they prepare to bury him.
Searching for unused dry cell batteries, she steals from the phone answering machine, triggering the final message from Tom. He will have to stay in San Francisco, after all. She sews her daughter into a shroud made of sheets.
A massive bonfire has been established to burn bodies, which the town’s people are no longer able to bury. Carol watches as it consumes the body of Liz, her first born.
From out of the dark, a man come to comfort her, and they embrace in a passionate kiss. A former lover or a spontaneous action, not clear to me watching.
Suicide is considered. See the scene featuring Fred Astaire from On the Beach. Carol closes the garage door, and she, Brad, and Hiroshi sit in the front seat as Carol starts the engine. She decides against it, and they all return to the dying village.
A few things about the plot do not strike true. The entire movie is set in the village. No. Absolutely not. In any such situation there would be contact, interaction with adjacent towns.
We see the flash as a bomb takes out San Francisco, but no sound reaches the town 90 miles away. Trust me. A blast that levels San Francisco is going to be heard and felt for hundreds of miles.
Electricity is lost immediately, but we never see the town run out of water. Electricity is needed to pump water. With no communication with the outside world, a place like Hamelin should run out of food in a week or two. The timeline stretches for months, and people are not eating grass.
A national catastrophe has occurred, and no state or federal officials, military or otherwise, show up. The story tellers want us to believe all communication has been severed, but history has shown this does not happen in the worst of circumstances.
Please note the presence of a young Kevin Costner as Phil Pitkin.