Yesterday afternoon Turner Classic Movies (a favorite channel of mine) played On The Beach. For those unfamiliar with it, it is a 1959 black and white movie starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Tony Perkins and a few others. The main theme is one that was common in the late 50's and early 60's... the end of life on earth due to nuclear war.
It's a rather sad story. The only people left alive on the planet are in Australia. The fallout is headed their way and they all know it. In spite of knowing the end is coming, the people all seem remarkably calm and stoic. I found that the most unbelievable part of the story. There are way too many people who are constrained only by the fact that there might be some retribution for giving in to their urges. Civil society would break down almost completely in a situation the movie presents.
I have watched a lot of movies about the aftermath of a nuclear war or some unnamed apocalypse. Most have been more realistic; chaos, anarchy, the elevation of brutality as a means to survive. But they have been about survivors who had a chance of rebuilding, or believed they did. That is why this story was so different. You knew going in that there was no real hope. Yet people went about their lives, refusing to accept that reality.
Throughout the movie, there is talk of a "pill" which will be distributed just before the end, before the radiation sickness will begin, that will send the taker into a light relaxed, perhaps a bit euphoric, state then into a coma and then... death. Some of the interaction between characters is about that pill.
The final scene is a collage of shots of empty streets with a breeze blowing litter about.
I watch this movie whenever I notice it is on. I have seen it maybe 10 times over the years. It never fails to stir certain feelings, trigger certain thoughts. Maybe it's because I grew up in the 50's when the threat of nuclear war was so strong. Maybe it's a morbid fascination with the end of all things. Maybe it's just my own melancholy which draws me to this particular film. Or it could be that it had Ava Gardner in it as an alluring but somewhat slutty character. Or maybe Fred Astaire without a dance scene.
Way back when, it moved me to find the book and read it. But it has been so long that I have forgotten how the book and movie differ. I suppose I shall have to read it again.
[Footnote: I don't know what's going on with the fonts lately, the changing fonts in the posts are not intentional nor can I seem to "fix" them]