#83 - The War Game (Peter Watkins)

Duck and Cover

“The War Game” is technically not a documentary. The easiest way to explain it I guess is to say that it is a fiction film, a “what if?” scenario that is presented in a documentary format. However the “what if” part is the key, as “The War Game” asks the harrowing question of what if it came to a nuclear blast in Britain? And what would be its effects on the population? Today this sounds like a very remote scenario (although still a possible one - however remote) but back when “The War Game” was made, at the height of the cold war, it was a possibility that everyone had to consider.
The film explores the subject in depth, from what the enemy would probably target, the actions the government would probably take to protect its populace, to the ramifications of those actions as well as the effects of the bomb. And all this is presented through a variety of filmmaking methods like mock news-casts, recreations and a huge amount of data that is pulled from real life scenarios like the bombing of Dresden in WW2 and of course the only two cases in human history where the atomic bomb was used against a civilian population - the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The footage and the information this film presents is shocking and disturbing to say the least, and the black and white photography give it a supremely convincing layer of authenticity. However this fantastic presentation is not completely bullet-proof and the few times where you can glimpse through the images and notice that it is all acting and a recreation of a worst case scenario, the absurdity of it all becomes very apparent. Not the absurdity of the recreation itself but the absurdity of the reality and the cold war itself.
In fact this absurdity becomes somewhat overpowering as it faces you with the fact that indeed we where once at a point in our history where there where men with their fingers on the button, pretty much ready to destroy everything and everyone. It’s hard not to remember “Dr. Strangelove” and realize what a brave film it was for pointing out how insane all this was, and “The War Game” seems like a very apt follow up to that film because it pretty much takes off where Strangelove ended. And the tone of it is fittingly somber because once the bomb goes off there’s not much left to laugh about.

Today we might not live under a constant threat of a nuclear exchange but “The War Game” remains an important film simply because there still seems to be a threat – or so they’ll tell us. And if more recent documentaries like “Countdown to Zero” are to be believed these weapons are not only available to nations of varying levels of trustfulness, but even some rogue elements could potentially get their hands on them. If anything it is a justified fear to have and “The War Game” is a fitting cautionary tale even today, only that the absurdity doesn’t seem to be as palpable as it once was.

The War Game on IMDb

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