Year: 1983

Production: Entertainment Events / American Playhouse

Director: Lynne Littman

Starring: Jane Alexander, William Devane, Ross Harris, Roxana Zal, Lukas Haas, Philip Anglim, Leon Ames

Screenwriter: John Sacret Young

Based on The Last Testament by Carol Amen

89 minutes; Color

We follow the ordinary, loving, quarrelsome life of one family in a small Californian town, Hamlin. Without warning, all US cities are destroyed by nuclear weapons. Hamlin, not far from San Francisco, is spared the immediate blast (in which the husband is killed), but loses most of its population to radiation sickness. Two children die. The mother and her surviving son, at the end, decide not to commit suicide.

This is an intimate film about the end of the world. Too well observed to be simple soap opera, it is nevertheless formidably and touchingly domestic, and (deliberately) declares itself in every scene a film made by a woman; even the death of a child is evoked by the careful sewing of a shroud. It treats the vast scale of the disaster obliquely, the small standing for the large, and seems not interested in causes, only in effects - in marked contrast to The Day After, made the same year. Also in contrast to the film, Testament is diffident to the point of shrinking about the physical effects of the holocaust; radiation sickness is merely symbolized, by dark shadows round the eyes. The Hamlin/Hamelin parallel of the "Pied Piper" school play focuses the tightly controlled anger of the film on the adult negligence that makes children innocent victims. Testament is potent and sentimental, one of a number of 1980s films about nuclear destruction - e.g., Special Bulletin, Threads and When the Wind Blows.

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