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The Day After Reviews

Reviewed By: Derek Armstrong

During a period of heightened Reagan-era Cold War paranoia, ABC aired this lightning rod of controversy and media attention, whose graphic depiction of nuclear holocaust engendered discussions about whether parents should allow their children to view the nightmarish images. The Day After remains one of the best-known made-for-television movies, and is still a halting piece of precautionary propaganda about nuclear arms control. If leveling a heartland Kansas city through a nuclear blast and subsequent nuclear winter weren't scary enough, director Nicholas Meyer imagines the apocalyptic moment with indelible terror: following the flash, the bodies are frozen mid-stride, then skeletonized, then incinerated into a silhouette of light, then wiped clean from existence. While the immediate carnage is horrific, the wasteland aftermath is where the film really makes its case. Picking through rubble, the survivors form lawless clans to stay alive before the radiation sickness kills them or the sheer misery of it all drives them insane. The familiar cast, including Jason Robards, Steve Guttenberg, Jobeth Williams, and John Lithgow, gives viewers the impression that they know the people who are coping with this disaster. The last long shot of Robards, weeping among the ashes, will linger in their minds. Rarely has there been a TV movie so uncompromising in its intensity as The Day After.