Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

17
THE DAYS AFTER: FILMS ON NUCLEAR AFTERMATH

Wyn Wachhorst

Of all the contrived analyses that cling to science fiction films of the 1950s-- McCarthyist body snatchers, Russians from Mars, the bomb in the guise of Godzilla--the most pervasive has been the superficial notion that viewers sub- limated the bomb as the stereotypical Victorians sublimated sex. Film criticism, one often suspects, is another of those fields overpopulated in the wake of technological unemployment. The survivors of Hiroshima themselves would be hard pressed to find much mythos in the destruction of Tokyo by a seventy-story snail. The six-acre moth and the one-chicken skyline were given radioactive rationales simply because radiation lay at the leading edge of science, where known and unknown interface. In the mutant monster cycle of the 1950s (for example, Them!), and in films about reconstructed or mutated societies of the distant future (for example, Planet of the Apes), the bomb has served simply as a plot gimmick. To argue otherwise is to attribute a two-dimensional, sociopolitical function to the profoundly personal nature of psychic images. At best, such interpretations misjudge the degree to which McCarthyism and the bomb were perceived by the average moviegoer as immediate, personal threats. 1 Academics often live too much in the tiny clearing that is rational consciousness, swapping hack politicisms like adages from Poor Richard, denying (as D. H. Lawrence said of Ben Franklin) the primal immensity of the dark forest. Insights into the cinematic role of the bomb, in short, will not be found on bumper stickers and T-shirts.

If the bomb has had a psychological role in film at all, the fact should be most evident in such films as Five, On the Beach, and Damnation Alley, in which the holocaust itself is the point of departure. The first and most obvious char

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