End of World Subcategories: The Nuclear Holocaust
As I was first thinking about the sorts of things I might want to write for this blog, it kept occurring to me that there are, indeed, many different ways the world as we know it could end, and that it might be useful to define those subcategories for the purposes of discussing books, movies and other media. Truthfully, it seems to always be some combination of a few, but usually, there is a predominant, overarching cataclysm that sets the ball rolling and the dominoes falling. So let’s start with one of our favorites:
The Nuclear Holocaust. This variety of catastrophe haunted my teenage dreams in the 80’s, the era that brought us the radioactive trifecta of The Day After, Testament and Threads. The basic formula with all of these: we are introduced to the protagonist(s) a few days before the nuclear attack, establish who they are and how they react as international relations seem to be headed in a bad direction. Then the attack happens – we often don’t know who initiated it, we just see the protagonists react. After that, of course, is the post apocalyptic aftermath, our survivors have to navigate survival in usually a toxic and ruined world: those who don’t die in the blasts are subject to fallout, radiation and other survivors rapidly descending into barbarism to fight for the remaining resources. With the exception of Threads, however, the aforementioned movies don’t usually explore much of the aftermath after the initial few weeks and months. Shoutout to Threads for upping the anti in a devastating and factual, documentary-style take as we see the Ruth, female protagonist (kudos to BOTH Threads and Testament for their female protagonists in the early 80’s!), struggle through discovering she’s pregnant as the world is falling apart, living through the blast when her fiancé dies, giving birth to her daughter by herself in a back alley with barking dogs and finally dying in her 30’s (though she looks about 80, due to the effects of radiation). Her daughter is about 13 at this time, gets raped and pregnant, and the movie ends with her giving birth, looking down at the baby (which the audience never sees) and the camera frozen on her face in a silent scream, presumably because the baby has some kind of horrible mutation.
I have to give brownie points to the Mad Max franchise as well for delving further into post-apocalyptic society post nuclear blast. Having seen ALL the movies in this franchise, I’m still not quite sure WHEN the nuclear blasts occur (if anyone has any concrete info on this and can back it up, let me know!), whether before Mad Max, or at the end of it, but it’s clear that, by The Road Warrior, we are at full post-apocalypse, and Beyond Thunderdome actually begins to explore the reforming of society with Bartertown.
Another MORE than honorable mention must go to the currently-running The 100, which I will likely dedicate a plethora of writing to, as it really delves into the aftermath and the bleak idea that human beings never seem to learn from their mistakes! One thing in particular I want to point out about The 100 is that, in the most recent season, they explored the idea that, with all these nuclear power plants around the globe not being staffed for so long, they are going to start to melt down, causing a secondary wave of global radiation (“Praimfaya” as it’s called in grounder patois) for a nice little round 2 radiation blast in a world that had finally been bouncing back from the initial nuclear war.
The trouble with nuclear holocaust, at least fictionally speaking, (and please, let’s keep it to fiction – take note, world leaders!), is that it’s so, well, BLEAK. And most folks, when watching something, want there to be at least a small, uplifting and/or hopeful element to the story. I have to say – just remembering Testament (and reading the Wikipedia posting) made me tear up, especially with all the reports we’ve been getting recently of North Korea’s missile testing.
Other examples of nuclear holocaust fiction:
Books: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr., On the Beach by Nevil Schute, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Films: On the Beach, Dr. Strangelove, Damnation Alley, The Postman, The Book of Eli
TV Series: Jericho, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica, Genesis II