[Cinema] "Threads"

"Actually, all of this links to the other big event of this week for me. Seeing Threads repeated on BBC4. Thirtysomething readers will remember being traumatized by this in the early eighties.

The teleplay begins as a simulated documentary about the impact of a nuclear strike on Sheffield, but ends up as a coolly Bergmanesque vision of a literal hell on earth. The early post-blast scenes – with survivors huddling into barricaded-in basements, fearful of and hostile to outsiders – were reminiscent of nothing so much as Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Near-total anomie, society stripped back to its Hobbesian bare minimum.

What Threads brought to unlife was the virtual apocalypse haunting the k-punkconscious. As Kneale's The Road shows, the Bomb haunts the unconscious, not as a spectre from the past, but as a virtual future so terrible its shockwaves echo back through time. Ballard says that there are times – particularly times of great trauma – when the unconscious and the external landscape are flat with one another. This is what nuclear devastation would be like: the raw material of total nightmare, worse than the worst nightmare imaginable, now real. Reality at its most nightmarish even though it is reality in its purest form: no escape, no return, the traumatized population literally cannot live with this, so they don't, auto-numbing themselves into the simulated death of blank-eyed shock.

So many electrifying images, worthy of the most intense film: an almost oneiric scene in which, amidst swirling radioactive dust, a woman – her eyes coalmine black and totally devoid of affect – clings onto the shrouded corpse of a baby. The eyes, the eyes: vaguely questioning but dazed, dazed. This can't be happening, this is happening, the trauma victim's mantra. Soldiers frisking the dead body of freshly shot looter for a packet of crisps. 'Salt n vinegar. It would be. I hate those.' A woman giving birth in a filthy abandoned hangar, with only a chained-up barking dog for company. Hospitals like charnel houses, like that Baconoid facility in Jacob's Ladder.

A decade later. England as a Medieval country again... The massively reduced population hoeing an unyielding earth… Language attenuated, devolved into rough, guttural injunctions, reflecting a new harshness in social relations. No compassion, which is yet another luxury from a bygone age no-one can even remember any more."

(Mark Fisher, Ground Zero)