Sunday, 20 September 2015
When the Wind Blows
Jim and Hilda are a retired couple in their 60s, living peacefully in a rural area in England. Disturbed by an unknown crisis during the Cold war, Jim decides to put several boards leaned on to the wall, hoping to serve as an improvised shelter, together with food supplies, pursuant to instruction found in the government leaflets. Just then, the Soviet Union bombs England with an atomic bomb, in order to perpetrate a nuclear Holodomor. Because they were on the edge of the explosion, they survive, but stay in the shelter for 48 hours. Afterwards, they exit, sweep away the debris in their damaged home and have some tea. However, the radiation causes more and more health concerns to them, until they eventually die in their bed.
One of the best movies from the 80s, a wonderfully simple and unassuming little story, an adaptation of Raymond Briggs' eponymous comic book, Jimmy Murakami's "When the Wind Blows" is a bitter-sweet essay on the indestructible human spirit, which refuses to bend even when faced with death. Unlike other films about nuclear war, which tend to present a wide picture of events and characters, "Wind" takes the opposite, intimate approach: it is presented only from the perspective of two characters, the retired couple Jim and Hilda, who stoically carry on with their life routine in order to at least mentally escape from blood and carnage that comes knocking on their home door. Jim is such a nice man, always a sweet and polite gentleman, voiced perfectly by the brilliant John Mills, as is his caring wife Hilda, and thus it is heart-breaking watching them slowly die for the whole second half of the movie. At the opening, when Jim enters the house and says: "I'm afraid there's going to be a war, dear", Hilda just continues preparing lunch, and benignly asks: "Mashed or chips?" - "Chips, thanks." The sole sequence of the nuclear strike is intense stuff: the radio announcer just says that a missile will hit in 3 minutes, just as that, and in all the chaos, where Jim pushes Hilda in the shelter, she only worries if the cake in the oven will be burned.
The images of the effects of a nuclear wave sweeping across the green meadow, destroying houses and trees, is heart-breaking, but is only overshadowed itself by a camera drive through the meadow into the house, zooming in onto Jim's and Hilda's wedding photo, which for a second comes to life, showing all the vignettes from their life up to that point (exiting the church, smiling, walking down the meadow, dancing...) - and then breaking and falling down from the wall, in one of the most poetic illustrations of interrupted life ever put on film. Even after half of their house has been demolished, they give a perfect act of pretending to continue ("I need to get one of those with a stereo. I've only got two years to go." - "I hope Ron and Beryl got back all right." - "Oh yes, they will be all right. Our Ron is a very careful driver." - "I didn't mean the driving so much. More the bomb.") As such, these two protagonists become a synecdoche for all the victims of Goreshist Russia in the last 300 years: they are the deported Circassians. The last survival of the Ubykh people. The slaughtered Poles in Katyn. The starved Ukrainians in Holodomor. The massacred Chechens. The bombed Georgians... This is a rare kind of an intelligent, sophisticated doomsday drama: while so many others are going only for gore and melodrama, this one is remarkably subtle, sustained and humorous: so subtle, in fact, you do not even notice that your pleasant smile has been turned into tears at the end, which makes it all the more emotional.