Testament will move you to the core


This particular Throwback Thursday entry is one of the best on the subject of nuclear aftermath. But “best” doesn’t mean it will leave you feeling good — rather the opposite: ‘Testament’ will leave you emotionally raw and exhausted.


For those who haven’t seen the 30+ years young Testament — and especially so if you enjoy a superb character drama — I envy you. You’re in for a treat.

But a word of warning: This is the furthest thing from a “feel good” drama you can get. This film is intense in its character, intense in its subject matter and it will keep you glued to the screen in anticipation of what comes next.

Filmed in 1983 during the midst of a rash of films about nuclear thoughts, Testament is head and shoulders above the rest in content. This is a cerebral film, a passionate film about a family set in a fictional town of Hamelin, California outside San Francisco. Grounded in dramatic science fiction first and foremost, the film unfolds over the course of days and weeks in the aftermath of the United States suffering from nuclear attack by some never-revealed source.

And the aftermath is a devastating one which eats away at the viewer’s sympathies agonizingly, little by little.

Testament is the furthest thing from a “feel good” drama you can get.

The film starts out positively with Tom and Brad Wetherly (William Devane and Ross Harris) a father and son taking a bike ride around town one routine morning. There are the usual familial commonalities and chides and goodbyes, with one such farewell, in hindsight, taking a striking turn between Tom and his wife Carol (Jane Alexander in her Academy Award nominated role).

That same day, tragedy strikes. The family — including daughter Mary Liz and Scottie (Roxana Zal and Lukas Haas in his first film appearance) — are gathered after school at home. Tom has left a message he is delayed by work while in San Francisco and not to hold up dinner for him.The television set the kids are watching simply and mysteriously turns to white noise, then goes dead after a newscaster announces the detonation of nuclear devices up and down the east coast. Suddenly, a blinding flash of light engulfs the air. There is no sound, no explosion. This sets the eeriness of the film in motion; we’re initially introduced to the family in the most pleasant manner and then we’re turned on our heads shortly thereafter by a blinding flash and air-raid sirens. It’s from this point on you are unable to look away from the screen.

What unfolds are the testaments of the family and everyone in the town of Hamelin. While Hamelin survives seemingly unscathed from any damage, residual radiation begins seeping into all beginning a wave of sickness and death that slowly runs its course through the town. It is in the follow up events resulting from the nuclear detonations abroad where we witness the true meaning of the film’s title played out by the townsfolk. And the events piercingly rip at your heart.

This is not a tale of physical destruction – it is one that instead erodes the characters within it and often chafes them raw …

Agony and desolation and fear continue to build as the film progresses and you cannot but feel the power of the story.

In the end, few survive.

To keep us thinking throughout its 90 minutes, there are clever bits and pieces hidden in plain sight within Testament and all reflect the film’s titularity — they are testaments and reflections on everyone and everything tragedy touches or hints at. The ominous weather as a result of the fallout. The telling name and tale of the boy Hiroshi. Brad’s determination. Carol’s strength in the face of so much woe. The demise of certain characters. The town left to the devices of its townsfolk.

Of note: Kevin Costner (in one of his first films), Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business) and Oscar nominated Mako (The Sand Pebbles, Samurai Jack) appear in the film in interesting roles.

This is not a tale of physical destruction — it is one that instead erodes the characters within it and often chafes them raw, opening them up wide to the dread and the hopelessness of their situations. It would not surprise me in the least should this work move you to the core. Its intention is to do just that and you might find it to be the scariest and most powerful film you’ve ever seen.

This widescreen format DVD is a reissue of the 2004 version of the film (also closed-captioned, Dolby digital enhanced and subtitled) and comes with some nice featurette touches. Testament At 20 gathers many of the actors and crew of the film for their reflections and behind the scenes stories during the making of the film. Testament: Nuclear Thoughts dissects the original 1950s Duck and Cover atomic bomb short along with discussions from government officials, a survivor of Hiroshima and further thoughts from several actors among other items. Lastly, there is an historical Timeline Of The Nuclear Age rounding out the extras denoting important events in the development of nuclear arms.

Testament is available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection and was generously provided to CliqueClack for review.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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