- 1 hr 30 min
In the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, the tightly-knit community of Hamelin, California is thrown into crisis. Testament, released in 1983 and directed by Lynne Littman, tells the story of one family trying to survive in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Jane Alexander plays Carol Wetherly, a mother of three struggling to keep her family together amidst rapidly worsening conditions. The film begins with the family's normal morning routine, quickly interrupted by a blinding flash and a distant boom. From there, we witness the slow and steady breakdown of society, as all communication with the outside world is cut off and basic necessities become scarce. As the days go by, the situation becomes increasingly bleak. Radiation sickness begins to take hold, and the Wetherlys and the other members of their small town must rely on their own ingenuity and resilience to survive. We see makeshift hospitals set up in basements, food and water rationed carefully, and the dead buried in makeshift graves in backyards. Throughout all of this, the film maintains a focus on the human element. Alexander's performance is quietly powerful, as we watch her character struggle to keep her children safe and maintain some semblance of normalcy in a world that is anything but. William Devane plays her husband Tom, who is away in San Francisco when the bomb drops and is forced to try and make his way home through the chaos. Rossie Harris portrays their youngest child, little Scottie, who is wise beyond his years and provides some much-needed levity in the midst of so much tragedy. What's striking about Testament is how low-key and restrained it is. There are no explosions, no sweeping musical scores, no grandiose speeches about the end of the world. Instead, we see the quiet desperation of people trying to hold onto hope as they watch their world crumble around them. The film is shot in muted tones, with much of the action taking place in dimly-lit rooms that are both claustrophobic and comforting. One of the most affecting sequences in the film comes when Carol and her eldest daughter Mary Liz (played by Roxana Zal) are driving to a distant well to try and gather water for the family. Despite the fact that little is happening onscreen, the tension is palpable: every car they pass could hold a threat, every radio broadcast could bring news of another attack. It's a masterful example of how to create tension without resorting to cheap tricks. Of course, there are moments of high drama as well. One scene in particular, in which Tom finally makes it back to Hamelin after days on the road, is incredibly emotional. It's a testament (no pun intended) to the film's careful pacing and subtle storytelling that this scene is as affecting as it is, given that we've only seen Tom briefly at the beginning of the film and have spent most of the running time with his wife and children. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Testament is how unrelentingly bleak it is. There are no easy answers, no sudden rescues, no moments of heroism or triumph. Even when things seem like they might be improving, we know that there's always another tragedy lurking just around the corner. It's also worth noting that Testament is a product of its time. Made during the Cold War, it's clearly intended as a cautionary tale about the potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear war. While the specifics may have changed in the intervening years, the film's underlying message remains as relevant today as it was in 1983. Ultimately, though, Testament succeeds not because of its message or its timeliness, but because of its deep, overwhelming humanity. This is a film about people, not politics or ideology or spectacle. It's about the power of love and perseverance in the face of unimaginable hardship. And that's a message that transcends time and place.