Threads (1984)

“In an urban society everything connects, each person’s needs are feed by the skills for many others, our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable”

 

A while back, I reviewed a 1965 faux documentary called The War Game that really creeped me out. I’m usually immune to the most brutal of all horror films as I seem unable to take the subject matter seriously, but the way The War Game was done got to me. The visceral bleakness of the subject matter and the realistic portrayals of human suffering put me in a similar mood as to when I originally watched Schindler’s List years ago. When I checked my comment box later on, I noticed a common thread (no pun intended) in most comments – I had to see a later film called Threads, because it also hits you like a ton of bricks. I’m no masochist when it comes to movies, so watching something just to make myself feel bad was out of the question, but I did want to see this. With all the North Korean sabre rattling as of late, I think I’ve been getting a taste of the uneasiness and fear felt during the worst parts of the cold war. In a weird way, I feel that watching stuff like this can “educate me” on what not to do, how bad people will act, and who you can trust.

While The War Game was essentially a strict documentary styled production, Threads actually has some semblance of a dramatic narrative in place. The plot focuses on ordinary people living in the city of Sheffield, and more specifically on a couple of young lovers that find themselves at the gateway of real adulthood. With an unplanned pregnancy looming, Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) and her boyfriend Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) decide to get married, get a house, and all of the other things responsible people do in that situation. Their happiness is cut short as a crisis looms in the Middle East.

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In a fairly realistic manner, the news leading up to the impending disaster is shown slowly in the background with nobody really paying too much attention until it’s honestly too late. The signs are all there that the world is on the brink of utter collapse, but it’s just sort of washed over. People go about daily activities with the news on, glance at newspapers, and listen to the radio albeit only passively. Let’s face it; Jimmy and Ruth have bigger things to deal with in their immediate lives than world events. They have to deal with family pressures such as questions on whether they should get an abortion and if they can support a child. The news is the last thing they care about.

This peppering in of plot progression is done with fake archival news footage and other reports shown to set the scene. If one pays attention, the crisis escalates as Iran falls to a military coup, only to have Russia capitalize on the situation. Due to the complex web of alliances with other countries, places like America get dragged in early on. American bombers try to help fend off the Russian threat, inadvertently causing nuclear war to erupt. Russia first attacks the aforementioned bombers, and then gets hit with a retaliatory attack on an occupied air base. Russia launches an EMP attack over the North Sea, and follows it up with a barrage of strikes on key tactical points in all NATO countries with Sheffield being one of the targets.

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So that’s how the mess really starts, but that isn’t the real point of the film – now we get to see how messed up everything gets on a human level. Before the bombs go off protests ravage the streets of Sheffield as people from government positions try to calm the tension with claims of prosperity due to industrial growth – but this is Sheffield, one of the places hit worst by Margaret Thatcher’s mining industry clamp-down. Full-on riots erupt in East Germany and a mass exodus of large population centers commences. People go crazy to stock up on food, water and other basic necessities until the bombs hit. And boy do they hit. They hit hard, and not even Jimmy comes out alive.

I won’t spoil anymore of the plot here, but all I will say is simply that things get bad – really bad. And when you think you have seen the gloomiest, most depressing thing in Threads, they throw another fast ball at you. Scenes such as a Husband-less Ruth having to cut the umbilical cord of her own child with her teeth are the worst. One really gets a sense of despair and pain in this movie that you usually don’t end up with in other films. That’s why I compared this to a horror film earlier, as guys like Freddy Krueger don’t scare me. There is not a real-life demon killing random people in their dreams, but the stuff in this movie – it could happen. Threads is the ultimate disaster movie, and possibly one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen.

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Would I recommend Threads? Possibly, but only if you can handle this kind of movie. While it doesn’t exist as some kind of gore-filled exploitation movie, the plot is so bleak that I doubt my own wife could watch it without exploding into a fountain of tears. It reminded me of things such as the whipping scene in The Passion of the Christ, not really that bad in comparison to other movies, but so emotionally intense that it’s hard to sit through. While The War Game was shocking in the sixties, Threads has escalated the shock value to a level that I don’t think has been matched by another disaster film. Most films in this genre of speculative fiction turn into heroic action tales of a hero kicking a volcano’s ass or a scientist that saves everyone from a storm, Threads is watching the human race shrivel up and die.

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13 thoughts on “Threads (1984)

  1. This is a stunning movie, truly real and heartbreaking. Back in the mid-80s, there was a real threat of nuclear oblivion and, as an impressionable teenager at the time, Threads thrived on the paranoia and fear of the time. While there had been similar programmes before (The War Game, from the 1960s, for example), because of my age, and the truly apocalyptic feel of this film, seen from the aspect of the everyday Briton, Threads had a huge impact on me… (Around the same time, When The Wind Blows came out, and had a similar effect, even though it is animated.
    Thanks for reviewing! :)

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  2. Not long after Threads first came out our secondary school made us watch it. Talk about traumatised! Since then it has become part of the cultural landscape – especially, obviously, up here in sunny Sheffield. It’s quite something to see familiar streets (albeit thirty year-old film of the same) getting blown to smithereens.

    In an essay at university I played on the thought of nuclear war being a modern horror fiction, using Stephen King (The Stand) and Tom Clancy (The Sum of All Fears? I’m guessing at that one; anyway, it devoted an entire chapter to the process of a nuclear device exploding, which I considered as grotesque as any number of zombie decapitations) as examples. I got called idiosyncratic :) Clearly the tutor hadn’t suffered sleepless nights after watching Threads.

    Something I think should be watched by all teenagers, whether they want to see it or not.

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    • Here in the U.S. we had a movie called “The Day After” that does some of the same stuff albeit not in the same shocking way. It was filmed about 50 miles from where I live and uses familiar town names and such, so I can feel your pain there.

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  3. Like most people of my age, Threads scared the hell out of me at the time (I was 14) and it took 20+ years before I could face it again on DVD, scaring the hell out of me again. One subtle point that lots of people miss, occurs almost at the very end of the film, as Jane, Ruth’s radiation-stunted daughter gives birth. Look at the person in the cubicle next to her- it’s a scarred and obviously dying Jimmy, Completely unaware that the girl next to him is his own daughter. the ‘threads’ of society have completely broken down.

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  4. Yes its Jimmy. I oddly noticed that after the day after watching the film. This is the most depressing and haunting film I wish I’d never seen :(

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  5. I am glad I am not the only one who recognized that man as Jimmy. The other clue there was that the song “Johnnie be good” was playing at that last scene. That was the same song Ruth and Jimmy heard on the car radio the night Jane was conceived. Somehow, Jimmy had survived the attack.

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  6. First off, I take my hat off -and then bow- before talking about this movie. Second, that scarred guy at the end is NOT Jimmy -some funny guys also played with the idea at some point on some funny website-. And third, talking about crappy disaster movies -and humongous ironies of life- it was Mr. Mick Jackson who ALSO directed -yes, you guessed- “Volcano”. And “The Bodyguard”. So there you go, that’s a real-life disaster for you.

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  7. I still believe it is Jimmy. Sure looks like him, and too much of a coincidence. But I guess it is all in one’s perception. We should ask Mick Jackson. Is he still around? Or maybe ask Reece Dinsdale. He should know.

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  8. Today is the 30th Anniversary of which “Threads” was first shown by the BBC it was a Sunday, night back then I was 16 I can remember asking myself would I see 20?
    Went into school the following day my form tutor was waving the VHS tape around the classroom with the Threads recorded on it and said “we will be showing this you will attend this viewing” talk about lets all do it again!
    Threads, is one of those dramas that leave an impression on you it certainly scared the 80s generation.
    This is an important drama as it gives some insight of how things were at the height of the cold war and also a reminder that things like this must never happen.

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