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Let's help build Mr. Bloggs' fallout shelter or inner refuge
on 17 June 2013
In the last year or so, I have developed somewhat of an obsession with films and books based on the ideas of nuclear wars or post-nuclear survival. Not having the mental fortitude to sit through 'Threads' again, the idea of this animated tale on such a topic definitely appealed, and for a multitude of reasons - a tale from the renowned Raymond Briggs, glowing reviews from others and a plot that seemed right up my street. And after watching 'When The Wind Blows', I was certainly not disappointed.
Plot synopses and story settings should be familiar to anyone who has reached my review - but it is worth noting how effective the story dynamic is in pitting two loveable but painfully naive everyday people against the harshest of realities. The whole notion of nuclear war and associated bomb attacks are horrors (thankfully) relatively few people have experienced - therefore the idea of temperature extremes, blinding light, radiation fallout and bleak decimated landscapes are almost fantasy in the imagination of most, and therefore a good animated story such as this one expands that fantasy, with accompanying dream-like sequences throughout Jim's various monologues or other salient junctures in the film. The resulting combination of great animation, thoroughly enjoyable storyline and great characters that just demand empathy from the viewer means this is a very unique and gripping take on the idea of nuclear war.
It is almost impossible to review any serious film about nuclear attacks without mentioning the BBC production 'Threads' in review. In this instance though, it is worth making that comparison. Like 'Threads', this story superimposes a nightmarish disaster upon the simple, regular lives of British residents. Many images and symbolic scenes are also common - the focus on home-made shelters, melting milk bottles, nuclear barren expanses replacing green and pleasant land and so forth. But unlike 'Threads', we are spared the wrist-slashingly hopeless-upon-hopeless descent into hell and endless suffering, and instead given more humanity, and God forbid, even humour during the darkest moments of Jim and Hilda's ordeal. The real genius of the script-writing is the way that Hilda's obliviousness and Jim's amusing pragmatism make us realise the sheer futility of such a situation, and the total ineffectiveness of governmental or local council advice that existed during the shadow of the Cold War years. Jim's confusion about some of the recommendations within the 'Protect and Survive' leaflets, whilst exaggerated for comic purposes, is a pointed jab at some contradictions that really existed in the advice, and the impracticality of some of the suggestions that were expected in the effort to survive nuclear attacks. Therefore, just like 'Threads', the viewer really feels as though, regardless of the best efforts of the individuals, most everyday people are dead the moment the nuclear warhead goes off no matter how proper the preparations; whether instant death or a matter of days thereafter.
Without giving much away in terms of exact plotlines, as the situation takes its toll on the couple, the film does become very sad and the final scenes are really emotive. The watcher will come away from this story saddened, with much to think about - it is melancholic to consider how people's lives, their past, their interactions and their way of life would be so brutally and completely wiped out in the event of a nuclear strike. But unlike 'Threads', hopefully some inspiration will be there too - thanks to the great characters of Jim and Hilda. Unmissable.