As of late, I’ve been intrigued by these kind of films. The talk of a nuclear tragedy and what to do, explained in a detached state, is unnerving enough but to see this staged is very chilling, even by today’s standards; so chilling, in fact, that it was removed from broadcast transmission on August 6, 1965 and wasn’t shown in full almost twenty years later. Noting that date, The War Game is classified as a birth movie (see Rango for definition).
This fictional docu-drama is about an instance of nuclear war and aftermath in a small English city. Utilizing handheld shots, filters, voiceovers, and quotes, this movie places us in the middle of the chaos. Any hope for survival is minimal as we see people die in the streets moments after the initial blast.
The viewer is placed in different parts of the city from the warning siren’s blare to the deadly blast. The screen goes white and we see the change from the image’s negative to the positive. Along with that, we see the immediate pain from parents holding their damaged children as they carry them indoors, only to suffer the aftershock and deafening roar of the explosion.
We don’t stop there. We see the casualities of the victims and hear their fears. Physically, there are burns, blood, respiratory issues. Mentally, the trauma is enough to rattle them for the rest of their lives. We also see people put out of their misery as they were denied treatment.
One interviewee talks about not just a World War III, but a World War VIII. I don’t want to think of a third war, let alone an eighth. To evaluate the situation and hypothesize an eighth world war when, back then, the second one was over is very troubling, nearly nihilistic.
The camerawork during the blast does seem commonplace by today’s standards, especially with films like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. At the same time, I find it fascinating that the shaky camerawork is used as an asset, even for the 1960’s.
The execution scene towards the end is really stark, especially as the voiceover mentions that all of this could happen before 1980. We’re well beyond that year but to hear this vision discussed is quite pessimistic.
The final interviews with the orphans are quite striking. You can’t hear them well, but from what they do say is a message of regression from shock: I don’t want to grow up. But grow up they must and adapt to their new surroundings.
This differs from other nuclear films at the time is that the people are engaged in the situation. Other shorts would employ some animation but state that everything will turn out fine as long as you follow the instructions. Problem is, the only live-action footage would be of the Trinity blast and nothing more. Here, you are a part of the blast and see the unleashing of hell in real time. I believe that aspect alone helped put this on the 1001 and it still works. It’s on Youtube in full at less than fifty minutes. Don’t watch this in the morning, though.
1001 MYMSBYD selection