December 29, 2012

Best of the End of the World -- TESTAMENT

This Piece Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin's 
(Directed by Lynne Littman - 1983)
Boy, let me tell you, growing up in Texas in the early 80s had its share of challenges. Foremost among these, though, was the fact that everyone was doing their best to convince me that a nuclear holocaust was imminent and I should be doing everything in my teenage power to prepare for this apocalypse. Nothing spells long sessions on a therapist's couch in your future than stirring up a cocktail of hormones and genocide, a push for life combined with a fear of death. And so it was.
It was the Reagan years after all.
In December of 1983, to add further fuel to my fire-engorged nightmares, Paramount Pictures released a nice little film called Testament. The film tells a lovely little tale of the trials and tribulations of the Wetherly family. The Wetherlys lived in a suburb of San Francisco, and the film is about them as they cope with the "realities" of a nuclear war. Nothing about this is fun, or pleasant, or upbeat.

My dad took me to see Testament in the theaters. He wanted to talk to me about it afterwards over dinner. I'm thinking Thai food. Remember those therapy sessions I mentioned above? Yeah, that was part of those too.
Because in this film the Wetherlys were a nice, white, suburban family (eep, just like my family), who, when the bombs drop, get to watch everybody die. And they weren't watching the big boom blow up – flash of light burn – kinda deaths either. No, Testament wanted you to understand that, in the event of a nuclear war, those caught in the blast were the lucky ones. Those of us in the suburbs, like the Wetherlys, got to watch as their loved ones slowly died from radiation poisoning, or watch as neighbor turned against neighbor savagely as supplies began to run low. Testament wanted you to see a mother gather her children and be forced to decide whether or not it would be better to kill them than let them live in this world.
Remember. This was the early 80s. This shit was real. Not Zombies or Mayans or Meteors or Climate Change – Nukes. Poised to strike at any moment. Our President told us it could happen at any moment.
So why am I so jaded at times? Why do I try to take pleasure when I can, seemingly at the expense of either my health or my "future"? Because when I was coming of age, I was told that I might not get the opportunity to get laid or drive a car or even vote against Reagan. I was brought to Testament by my father so I could understand the realities of the world in which I was being raised.
That nuclear war? It hasn't happened yet, but the emotional toil that an apocalyptic film like Testament unleashed upon my generation was an end of times moment in and of itself.

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