Nuclear war in the United States is portrayed in a realistic and believable manner. The story is told through the eyes of a woman who is struggling to take care of her family. The entire movie takes place in a small suburban town outside San Francisco. After the nuclear attack, contact with the outside world is pretty much cut off.
Jane Alexander ... Carol Wetherly
William Devane ... Tom Wetherly
Rossie Harris ... Brad Wetherly (as Ross Harris)
Roxana Zal ... Mary Liz Wetherly
Lukas Haas ... Scottie Wetherly
Philip Anglim ... Father Hollis Mann
Lilia Skala ... Fania Morse
Leon Ames ... Henry Abhart
Lurene Tuttle ... Rosemary Abhart
Rebecca De Mornay ... Cathy Pitkin
Kevin Costner ... Phil Pitkin
Mako ... Mike
Mico Olmos ... Larry
Gerry Murillo ... Hiroshi
J. Brennan Smith ... Billdocker
I first saw \"Testament\" when it came out in 1983. At the time, I was 30 years old and the mother of a two year-old son. As a child of the Cold War years, I have always been interested in films about that most unthinkable event: the detonation of a nuclear bomb or bombs somewhere on our fragile planet. If you are, too, you must watch \"Testament\" (and another small gem of a slightly earlier era called \"Fail-Safe.\")
This is a wonderful film that slowly, unbearably reveals what happens in the small, idyllic town of Hamlin after a full-scale nuclear exchange between the superpowers wipes out a large part of America. The town and its citizens, including the Weatherly family, escape initial destruction. But slowly the bonds that hold western societies together (electricity, communication, fresh food, medical help) begin to fray and ravel. There is no television. Batteries to power transistor radios suddenly become more valuable than $20 bills in a town where, suddenly, there\'s nothing left to buy.
The story and scenes are permeated with a sense of enormous loss. A family loses its husband and father who simply walked out the door, waving a breezy goodbye one morning, and disappeared into the holocaust. All his wife, Carol, and two children have left of him are their memories and some flickering images on home movies, glimpses not just of a lost loved one, but of a lost -- and loved -- world.
A school play about the Pied Piper was in rehearsal before catastrophe hit, and, desperate to recapture some normalcy and to divert the children\'s attention from a reality to horrible to contemplate, the town decides to go on with the show.In the earlier rehearsal scenes, life was normal, the future shone brightly in the children\'s faces. Now, as the parents watch the performance, they see no future for these beautiful innocents. To me, this is the key scene of the film: the contrast between what these people once had and what has been lost is staggering. It makes you want to go outside, smell the air, marvel at the full supermarket shelves and the working telephone lines. (This is a gift that the movie gives its audience which goes far beyond entertainment and approaches enlightenment.)
Beyond the wonderful writing, direction and performances, I love the tiny touches in the story. For example, there\'s the foreshadowing, the implicit warning contained in the presence of a minor character, a little Japanese boy with Down Syndrome who is cared for by the town after his father dies. The child\'s name is Hiroshi. Pay attention, the script commands us in a whisper: Hiroshima happened once, but it can happen again, and it can happen to you as well as \"them.\"
In the end, the movie is a testament to this undeniable fact, a testament to the stupidity of men who continue building ever-larger, more lethal means of mass destruction, and finally, a testament to the strength of mothers like the character of Carol Weatherly who have no choice but to love and protect their children no matter what comes.
There was \"The Day After,\" a U.S. production about as subtle as someone hitting you over the head with a bat going \"Nuclear war is BAD! BAD BAD BAD!\"
Then there was \"Threads,\" the BBC answer to Day After. Gripping, yes. Also unrelentingly graphic, violent and disturbing with little in terms of acting.
Then you have \"Testament,\" a quiet little American Playhouse production that, quite simply, runs circles around the other two. No mushroom clouds, no graphic scenes of mass destruction and death incarnate. Just simple, raw human emotion. \"Testament\" handles its subject manner with a surprising gentle touch, understated, yet effective. The film is the best of the three because of its subtlety. A small Californian town isn\'t hit by the blast, but rather the aftermath.
It works. At first, the town manages to hold together fairly well, even proceeding with the elementary school play. But then the children begin dying, then the grownups. And the film rapidly becomes a story about surviving as best you can, rather than rebuilding and going on. I won\'t spoil the film by revealing plot details, but there are several twists that are both subtle and heartbreaking.
This film relies on its emotions to tell the story, and the actors are up to the task. Jane Alexander is, in a word, brilliant (how she didn\'t win the Oscar she got nominated for is beyond me), but she\'s not the only one. Her children, particularly Lukas Haas and Roxanna Zal (in their movie debuts), are stunning as well, while some of the bit players make the most of what they have.
In the end, it\'s the gradual NON-appearance of the actors that make the point. Life will go on, yes, but for how long? \"Testament\" relies on the loss of those we learn to love to make its point in the best way possible: by letting us get it on our own.
It\'s been TWENTY YEARS (!) since I\'ve seen this movie in a theatre, and I\'ve never yet forgotten it. If any movie can be said to be life-changing, this is it. TESTAMENT was first shown in theatres, and the film\'s power became front page headlines for quite some time. People were crying in theatres, and article after article told of how this extremely powerful film affected people. This was not hype; as you\'ve read (or will read, below) in other user reviews, the emotional strength of this movie is genuinely powerful.
For myself, I held back as best I could from crying in the theatre (me being a 23 year old guy seeing it with two (married) friends). But the effect was apparently visible immediately: when I walked out of the theatre and passed thru the line of people waiting for the next showing, a woman, who was laughing with her friends, happened to look at me and her face went completely serious (and I\'m cute, so that wasn\'t it!). I very nearly hugged her right there, this stranger. When I got home, I cried for about two hours. The film\'s themes affected my, at the time, concerns about love, relationships, and such like.
One scene I\'ll never EVER forget, the most devastating: the 13-ish year old daughter asks her mother, \"What\'s it like?\" MOTHER: \"What\'s what like?\" DAUGHTER: \"Making love.\" The mother (Jane Alexander -- my God, what a performance!) tells her in a very frank and beautiful speech, and the daughter caps off that scene with a devastating remark that just kills you and got my tears flowing (I probably couldn\'t hold back at that point).
Before making TESTAMENT, director Lynne Littman had made only documentaries, so maybe that \"realism\" style added to the power and believeability of this movie. One of my all time favorite supporting actors is in this film, and he does a fantastic job: Mako. He and the young retarded (Down Syndrome?) boy who plays his son make a phenomenal team. They\'re my favorite characters: so full of innocence, father full of strength and pain. Agh... my god my god... what a movie. Whew.
* Flashback sequences were shot with a hand-held Super 8mm camera, to give the effect of a \"home movie\".
* The film was originally shot as a made-for-TV movie. Paramount executives were so impressed with it that they released it in theaters as a feature. The cast sued the producers for higher pay, claiming they were paid television salaries and not feature film salaries. The case was settled out of court.
* Final film of Lurene Tuttle.
* The letterman\'s jacket that Kevin Costner wears in the movie is the one he earned by playing baseball at Villa Park High School.