Bleak Cinema Club: Threads (1984)

Posted on July 23, 2014

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Threads (1984)

As the threat of nuclear war no longer hangs over the heads of the world (sorry North Korea, we ain’t taking you seriously), films about the subject aren’t too prevalent. This is a good thing, because Hollywood would (Hollywoodwood) surely sink those tediously-dramatic fangs deep into the subject, and Ryan Gosling would single-handedly save his wife, lets go with Jessica Alba, as she struggles to survive in post-bomb New York, all the while looking as pristine as they did at the beginning, albeit with smudges of dirt on their chins. Thankfully, this isn’t going to happen, and whilst I haven’t seen too many films about the subject, I have a tendency to be wary about them because of the dramatic story element of modern mainstream cinema.

Threads, a 1984 British TV drama on the subject, is far away from all of this. Sure, it has a story. Heck, it even has a romantic narrative through it. Well, through the first half or so anyway. What this is however, is a relentlessly realistic look at what exactly would happen if the world descended into nuclear warfare, a possibility which wasn’t so impossible to imagine just 30 years ago. A documentary of sorts, the film follows the story of Ruth and Jimmy, two young northerners entering adult life in Sheffield in the mid-1980s. Now Sheffield, I don’t mean to disparage you, I’ve only spent one day in you after all and that was spent shouting at kids about AIDs (true story), but Sheffield in the 1980s looks fairly bleak. Throughout the first parts of this picture, all and sundry are gripped to the radio as news from the Middle East worsens and worsens. The United States and the Soviet Union are on the verge of nuclear war because Iran, and the usual mix of anger, fear and delusion takes over the people. It can’t happen, surely, of course it can’t happen.

Well, it happens, and the results are difficult to judge. I only say this because whatever the results were happened to be hidden under piles of rubble and misery, as people attempt to get used to life in basements, or life on the streets, or in some cases life without life. Death that is. Things continue to degrade, hope for a possible future becomes a hope to survive becomes a hope for it all to be over. Much like other great bleak films, every speck of hope gets snuffed out, until the viewer eventually asks themselves how things can get worse. Be wary, young Padowan; things can always get worse.

Did I mention that Ruth is pregnant through pretty much all of this? Oh yeah, that as well.

Of course, any film of such subject matter is going to be based on conjecture. As Britain regresses to medieval levels of life, we the viewer have no way of knowing how true this would have been. Threads should be commended on this however, as it quite obviously chooses the worst possible path at every single opportunity. Now, those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of bleak art will surely be crowing, ‘but John, surely the worst possible path would be the end of all life as we know it straight away?’. No, no, and a third admittedly irrelevant no. Threads draws out the agony, not allowing the viewer to get comfortable in an ending, or any sort of closure, and it is an impressive piece of work for it. Not for the faint of heart, but there aren’t many more powerful pictures out there.

Although truth be told, the birth scene was the one I struggled with the most, which doesn’t bode well for the mother of my future children.

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Posted in: Cinema