“Testament” – Responding to Nuclear War

In the next of my posts about movies which I studied for my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, I am writing about Testament (Lynne Littman, 1983). While this movie came out at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, it is a very different style of production to The Day After and Threads which came out around the same time. Although it also deals with the build up and responses to a nuclear attack, it handles it very differently in that the town is not impacted directly by a bomb and there is no showing of a mushroom cloud, for example.

A summary on IMDb about the movie is as follows:

Nuclear war in the United States is portrayed in a realistic and believable manner. The story is told through the eyes of a woman who is struggling to take care of her family. The entire movie takes place in a small suburban town outside San Francisco. After the nuclear attack, contact with the outside world is pretty much cut off.


The movie has a good rating (at the time of writing) of 6.9. This is higher than I’ve given it, but perhaps I need to watch it again (watching more for the movie itself rather than analysing it for the basis of academic study) to see why it has got such a rating. The main thing that I remember from watching it initially was pausing the movie to check the cast list when I thought I recognised two of the actors and finding out that Rebecca De Mornay and Kevin Costner are in it – in what I suspect were amongst their first movies (by chance I watched The Untouchables (Brian De Palma 1987) again last night – Kevin Costner went a long way in just a few years).

In terms of the revised list of conventions that I developed as part of my article “Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?“, Testament has just 12 out of the 17. As noted above, and like The Chain Reaction, it stands out as one of the unusual movies in the study in that there is no image of disaster itself – but given the nature of the disaster and that radiation is not visible, this is understandable in this case. It is partly due to the setting that other conventions are missing.

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