Monday, February 22, 2010

Sucker-punched and bitch-slapped all at once

So I sit down with MPC1 to watch Testament - a made-for-TV movie from 1983 that actually got theatrical release because the studio heads liked it so much - and was devastated. (She was moved, but OK. Certainly not as messed up as I was.)

Here's the deal: I thought it was an apocalyptic movie with a HAPPY ending, based on my misreading of this little exchange on Roger Ebert's Answer Man:
Q. Re the reader who asked if there was ever a positive movie about post-Apocalyptic America: the people seemed to behave fairly decently towards each other in "Testament." I am pretty certain that there are others along these lines but none are coming to mind. I'd have said "The Bed-Sitting Room" but that was England.
Peter Sobcynski, Chicago

A. "Testament" remains one of the best American independent films. It blew me away at Telluride. America after the Bomb.

Note the finer point made by Mr. Sobcynski is that the people in the film "behave fairly decently towards each other" in response to the query if there was ever a "positive movie about post-Apocalyptic America." I missed this distinction entirely.

Well, SPOILER ALERT, nearly everyone dies. In particular, the main character loses her husband in the initial attack - he never comes home - and she goes through two of her three children dying from radiation poisoning, one of them being a kindergartener. And we get to go through it with her. END SPOILER.

This is a solid crimson bummer of a movie. Dear God on a Ritz cracker.

As I have often mentioned here, I assiduously avoid any "entertainment" where children are in harm's way or die. Especially little children. "Entertainments" EXACTLY LIKE this movie. Dammit anyway.

Is it a good movie, you ask? Well, yes it is. And, for once, the dated-ness of a movie actually works in favor of it. The ending monologue is especially affecting. The last thing the mom says to the remaining children (they pick up a boy with Down's Syndrome after his father dies), is that they should remember this time and, assuming there are better times, "to deserve the children." Beautiful.

Too bad most people will be sobbing so hard, or actively chambering a bullet to put through their skull, that they won't be able to HEAR the line. Did I mention this movie is a downer?

I remember in the 80s living with the very real fear that the bombs could drop at any moment. (Remember that lyric from Donald Fagan song New Frontier: "In case the Reds decide to push the button down"?) There were a few times when I half expected to turn on the news and hear that it was happening. Most of my buddies and I had "Hiroshima" nightmares where the bombs dropped, we saw the mushroom clouds, and we could see the shadow images of people burned against the wall from the blast; that's how detailed the nightmares were. We've found out since then that we came really close to that reality at least once. (In a weird case of synchronicity, this close call happened the same year Testament came out.)

So, back in the day, this was very much on everyone's mind. Had I seen Testament then (and who knows, I may have), I would've thought it was an awesome movie. But after having kids, most of us can't brook tykes getting snuffed in entertainment, even if it is pretend.

I sometimes wonder if in addition to adult content warning stickers and ratings we should have some sort of indication of children in peril. I certainly would appreciate it.


Whisky Prajer said...

That was the 80s, alright. I lost count of the times when I'd stop what I was doing and listen to the shriek overhead, only to catch my breath and return to the task because it was just another commercial jet coming in for a landing.

I think I'll pass on this movie, thank you.

yahmdallah said...

You're welcome.

Things that have been seen cannot be unseen.

ThisHereGiraffe said...

I saw it when it was released. Incidentally, this was about the same time the other big apocalyptic film "The Day After" came out. Testament hit me much harder.

And, if you want a triple-feature that's guaranteed to make you commit seppuku, see these with "The Road".

yahmdallah said...

I remember "The Day After". I recall Jason Robards crawling over a pile of rubble with obvious radiation poisoning, but that's about it. I'll never get the final images of Lukas Haas dying in "Testament."

As for Cormac McCarthy: I've decided he's America's Kafka, and I didn't like Prague's Kafka. But I'll take the point of your warning anyway. Though I have to admit, since I knew I wasn't going to see it "The Road", I went to the Movie Spoiler ( and read the end. Glad I skipped it.