May 17, 2011

The War Game (1965) - cautionary images of horror

directed by Peter Watkins

This 1965 documentary paints a picture of a gloomy fictional scenario, where nuclear war hits Britain: we see the Government's feeble attempts to prepare the people for the approaching danger, and then the full impact a strike has to an avarage English town - the immidiate destruction and the chaotic aftermath, the physical and mental damage men, women and children all suffer.

First when I heard about this I thought it sounded fascinating; what-if scenarios always are. It also felt a bit far-fetched. If you want to do a documentary about nuclear strikes, why not use the real life examples, as we unfortunately have had two of those as well? But yeah, it's pretty clear. For a western person, Japan and everything that might have happened there feel so far away. Only when the horrors are brought to your own neighbourhood, that's when it gets real. That maybe says something about the general lack of empathy in the world, but yeah, whatever works... I can't say if you should look at this film as a cautionary tale or propaganda or what, but the point gets across loud and clear: nuclear war isn't very nice. I can imagine how terrifying watching this documentary must have felt like for the people in the 60s. Hopefully they also remembered that while it's fiction to them, it's not fiction for everyone.

It's confusingly difficult to say what I think about the film or how it made me feel. I mean, it's fiction, right? This never happened, it's only a worst-case scenario. The Cold War is long gone and I don't think the Britons today need to worry about Russian nuclear bombs. We feel pretty safe here in Europe, don't we? Of course we, like every other person on the face of the Earth, should be scared, like really scared. I don't even want to imagine how many times the number of nuclear weapons has multiplied since the 1960s. And with those red buttons always close at hand to the great leaders of all those great nations... Knowing our species - the dangerous human impulse and paranoia and the general stupidness of man - I'd say we're pretty much screwed. It's terrifying to imagine how very close to total destruction we are, every moment, including right now... It might only take a tiny little push for the first finger to move to the button and press it down, which could only lead to a vicious circle and that's that then.

I don't know why I don't feel absolutely terrified. Maybe I still feel I'm pretty safe, and there's certainly more immidiate dangers around to worry yourself with. I mean, a nuclear war? Maybe the concept is just too bizarre and terrible to grasp. You can only cross you fingers and toes and everything and hope it all remains just a distant, alien menace, a warning from the past.

Have you noticed there's recently been a trend of me watching these amazingly cheery and feel-good documentaries? Nothing like a nice little tale of Holocaust or nuclear war to make your day...

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