Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview

to her husband's voice on her answering machine, then transferring the last battery to the flashlight; or a mother's panicked search for the teddy bear before burying her little boy in the yard.

These things alone, however, cannot account for Testament's effectiveness. An underlying counterpoint to the film's dominant pessimism affirms, even idealizes, the abiding spirit of the average individual. It is as though the human collective were some alien creature--an evil monster like the bomb it has creI+00AD ated--in the shadow of which each individual must somehow nurture hope. Testament simply depicts this predicament in its extreme form. In the final scene, the last three survivors--the mother, her son Brad, and a retarded Japanese boy--sit in the dark observing Brad's thirteenth birthday with three candles stuck to crackers. "What do we do now?" asks Brad without expression. "Make a wish," answers his mother. "What'll we wish for, Mom?" After a pause she says: "That we remember it all. The good and the awful. The way we finally lived. That we never gave up. That we were last to be here--to deserve the children. " The film then ends with another of the slow-motion, bright, flickering, home movies that have punctuated the story--this one a surprise birthday celebration for Dad in the backyard with cake and candles. One recalls the last act of Our Town, in which the dead Emily returns to witness her twelfth birthday and says to the stage manager:

It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. . . . I didn't realize. . . . So all that was going on and we never noticed. . . . Good-by to Grover's Corners . . . Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking . . . and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths . . . and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?--every, every minute?" 25

At the deepest level, our reaction to the postholocaust film is less a feeling of fear and rage than a renewed appreciation of Mama's sunflowers, new ironed dresses, and hot baths, and of the fact that we all live under a lesser form of the same fate, that we are each finally alone, with our candles and our wishes, in the face of death.


NOTES
1.
If the bomb were the main catalyst for monster movies, one would have to explain the motivation for such pre-1945 films as King Kong ( 1933). Far less naive, for example, is Walter Evans' suggestion that the 1950s monsters were aimed at a teenaged audience vulnerable to archetypal images of sexual change and conflict; see "Monster Movies: A Sexual Theory," Journal of Popular Film 2 (Fall 1973), pp. 353-65.
2.
J. Fred MacDonald, Don't Touch That Dial! Radio Programming in American Life, 1920-1960 ( Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979), pp. 56-57, 67, 68, 106; Columbia Press- book for Five ( Hollywood: Columbia Pictures, 1951).

-190-

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