The Day After (1983)

Tomorrow After the Missiles Land

Whilst Dr. Russell Oakes (Jason Robards) is dealing with the news his daughter is heading to Boston, college student Stephen Klein (Steve Guttenberg) is trying to hitch hike home to see his parents and Alison Ransom (Amy Madigan) is in hospital expecting her first baby. But everyone know there is trouble brewing as there is unrest between Germany and Russia with the presence of Nuclear weapons making things all the more scary. And then it happens and the World as we know it will never be the same again when the missiles are launched.

November 1983, I had not long turned 11 and as a young Brit who had never been abroad my attention was not on World affairs but how many days there were till Christmas. But anyone who can remember the 80s will probably remember the dark cloud looming over the planet due to the threat of nuclear war especially as various books were written and movies were made at this time which focused on the subject. And "The Day After" as you can see is one of them, focusing on a small community and various characters that learn that in 30 minutes the missiles are going to strike and life as they know it will change for ever.

Steve Guttenberg in The Day After (1983)

The thing is that watching "The Day After" now, some 30 plus years after it was made, it is impossible to understand what sort of impact it would have had on audiences back then. I say that because not only must there have been a fear factor that knowing nuclear war would be World changing but also a fear of not knowing exactly what that meant, that fear of the unknown. It means the emotional impact just doesn't really come across when watched for the first time now and more often than not, especially during the first half, gives it a feeling of actors going through the paces.

Now I mentioned the first half and in many ways the first half of "The Day After" is classic disaster movie as we meet various people and you know that as the movie plays out we will flit between them and how they are dealing with the nuclear holocaust. But this isn't full of excitement and big characters but is extremely dry in the way it comes across; if you like it is sombre out of respect for what this movie is about. As for the second half what I will say is that the special effects department take over as we get to see the aftermath with shadows being left where some people have gone and people suffering burns and so on.

The trouble with "The Day After" is that it is so concerned with its agenda of showing a nuclear holocaust that it doesn't do enough to draw us in to the characters. As such we may like the actors in the movie but we feel no emotional connection to any of the characters and frankly the movie does such a poor job of establishing characters that I had to constantly go looking for what the characters names were to work out their relationships to each other.

But whilst I have issues with the character writing the actual scenes dealing with the missiles hitting and we see everything from people being evaporated to panic on the streets and power being knocked out is impressive. In fact it is the most impressive and horrific part of the movie and it is worth enduring the first half just for these 4 or 5 minutes of visual impact.

What this all boils down to is that "The Day After" probably did have a huge impact when it was shown back in 1983 but now ends up more of a curiosity piece which fails to really create characters for the audience to connect with which is what it needs to still work as a movie and a piece of informative entertainment.