Beyond apocalypse: Recent representations of nuclear war and its aftermath in United States narrative film
The second half of the twentieth century constitutes a new era of human existence as a result of the newfound potential to destroy all living matter on the planet through technological means. The development of nuclear weapons and their destructive potential influences human consciousness and cultural production including U.S. commercial narrative films which deal with the idea of nuclear war. Such films can be read to reflect and mediate cultural attitudes about nuclear war and the increasingly technological future.
These issues are investigated through a close examination of several recent U.S. narrative films. An historical outline of the important events of the nuclear age and a survey of critical approaches to the study of nuclear war texts provide the context for this work. The ways in which popular cinema has constructed the idea of nuclear war are enumerated. A discussion of the formal and thematic concerns of the science fiction film genre follows since SF is the narrative category into which nuclear war films are frequently placed. Finally, detailed analyses of five exemplary films, The Day After (1983), A Boy and His Dog (1975), Radioactive Dreams (1986), The Terminator (1984) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), focus on the various, though related ways that popular narrative films have represented the idea of nuclear war.
Nuclear war is represented in quite a number of entertainment films recently which suggests our societal preoccupation with the possibility. At the same time, the representations of nuclear war have been limited to a fairly restricted range of scenographic and narrative options which often serve to trivialize or distanciate the subject, removing it from the realm of human agency. Narrative films which feature nuclear war almost always have another primary area of interest, often the main discourse of the film, and are often generic hybrids which allows for a greater latitude of appeal and meaning. Nuclear war imagery in such films signifies a rupture in our ability to think about the future and a decline in the belief of technological progress.
0326: Cultural anthropology