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The Good Old Apocalypse

So last night (late last night), my wife, my nephew-in-law (NIL from now on), and I sat down to screen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  This is a DVD I pulled out of the bargain bin several weeks ago, but hadn’t yet unwrapped.  I hadn’t seen the film in ages, but I think it holds up as good popcorn flick.  The action sequences are still fun, and Tina Turner is terrific.  (I just love that line:  “Well.  Ain’t we a pair . . . raggedy man.”)

One thing I find interesting is the very end of the film, wherein the rescued children fly off to the ruins of “Tomorrowland”–the city of Sydney, reduced to rubble by nuclear holocaust.  There’s this slow motion bit, accompanied by appropriately somber music, in which the frame intercuts between shots of the ruins, seen from the air, and the dismayed faces of the children.

Watching the film again again, some twenty years after its release, brings to mind just how seriously scared we all were of nuclear holocaust in those days.  Sure, it’s still a danger today, but back then, it seemed somehow a much more real possibility.  Likely, even.  And the culture reflected it.  Consider some of the other films of the time–not just adventure flicks like the Mad Max series, but “serious” movies, too:  The Day After.  Testament.  Miracle Mile.  Even War Games.  Sting’s excellent “Russians” played on the radio.  The Doomsday Clock stood at three minutes to midnight.  (For the sake of comparison, it’s at 11:55 right now.)

And this wasn’t the Fifties, when we could at least console ourselves with the spurious comforts of fallout shelters and that “duck and cover” nonsense.  No, by the time of the big bad Eighties, we knew better.  I live in Omaha, folks–then the home SAC HQ (now StratCom).  That was Ground Zero.  If the ICBMs started flying, we knew we’d have about half an hour.  Hell, in half an hour, I could just manage to get past city limits–and that’s assuming no traffic jams.  The hard truth was that if The Unthinkable occurred, I could not run fast enough or far enough.  The best I could do was get out a lawn chair and enjoy the fireworks.

I have to think that those final moments of MMBT just don’t mean as much to young whippersnappers like my NIL.  He’s in his twenties; I doubt he’s old enough to recall how we all lived in the shadow of that terror, how fatalistic we had become, how the cautionary “message” of MMBT seemed perfectly reasonable to present in such a film.  Maybe even obligatory.

You don’t see post-nuclear-holocaust films anymore.  We’re more frightened of climate meltdown.  And other things.

Ever find yourself waxing nostalgic for those innocent days, when all you had to fear was instant annihilation for the lucky ones, while the rest faced the hell of survival in a radiation-blasted, barbaric wasteland?

Yeah.  Me, too.

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