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Film / The Day After

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Dr. Russell Oakes: You're holding back hope.
Alison Ransom: Hope for what?! What do you think's going to happen out there? You think we're going to sweep up the dead and fill in a couple of holes and build some supermarkets? You think all those people left alive out there are going to say, "Oh, I'm sorry, it wasn't my fault! Let's kiss and make up!" ... We knew the score. We knew all about bombs, we knew all about fallout. We knew this could happen for forty years. Nobody was interested.

The Day After is a Made-for-TV Movie written by Edward Hume and directed by Nicholas Meyer, made just after he filmed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was first broadcast by ABC on November 20, 1983.

The film is set in and around Kansas City, Missouri and Lawrence, Kansas, which are in the geographic center of the United States. Initially it follows the daily lives of a number of locals: Kansas City physician Dr. Russell Oakes (Jason Robards) and his wife Helen (Georgann Johnson); Oakes's hospital colleagues, including nurse Nancy Bauer (JoBeth Williams), and one of his patients, expectant mother Alison Ransom (Amy Madigan); Joe Huxley (John Lithgow), a science professor at the University of Kansas; Stephen Klein (Steve Guttenberg), one of the students there; Harrisonville, Missouri farmer Jim Dahlberg (John Cullum) and his family; and U.S. Air Force airman Billy McCoy (William Allen Young), who's part of a launch crew stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, home to a number of Minuteman II missile silos.

Things don't stay normal for long. The Soviet Union commences a military buildup in East Germany to intimidate the U.S. and NATO into withdrawing from West Berlin. The situation deteriorates rapidly, with unheeded ultimatums erupting into a shooting war that rampages across Western Europe, then quickly goes all-out nuclear after tactical nuclear weapons are employed.

The final caption of the movie is "The catastrophic events you have witnessed are, in all likelihood, less severe than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike against the United States."

The aftermath of the initial broadcast of The Day After had a profound effect on politics. Then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who viewed the film when it came out, was greatly disturbed and claimed the movie left him "deeply depressed" for a while. Keep in mind that at the time this movie aired, Soviet-American relations were strained to a level not seen since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In September of 1983, a Korean Air Lines flight from Anchorage to Seoul had accidentally entered Soviet airspace and, mistaken for a spy plane, was shot down with all 269 people on board (including a U.S. Congressman from Georgia) killed, prompting a sharp uptick in anti-Soviet sentiment in the West. Later that month, a Soviet Air Defense center received a false report of an incoming American ICBM; only the decision of the officer on duty not to pass the alert along to his superiors prevented a retaliatory nuclear strike against the U.S. And NATO's infamous Able Archer 83 exercise in Western Europe—conducted only a week prior to this movie's initial airing—was another close call, because the Soviets thought the exercise was an escalation of forces in Europe and that NATO was genuinely preparing to launch a nuclear attack against the Warsaw Pact nations. After attending a meeting with the Pentagon about nuclear weapons shortly after the movie was released, Reagan became further repulsed by the idea of nuclear weapons and he wanted to solve the Cold War peacefully with the Soviets from that point on. In 1987, not only was the film shown on Soviet television for the first time, but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by the United States and USSR. The treaty banned all nuclear as well as conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges. What's more, during the talks, both Reagan and Gorbachev briefly considered signing a treaty that would have done away with all the US and USSR's nuclear weapons. Sadly this did not come to fruition, mainly because both leaders realized that the political will in their respective governments for such a move just wasn't there. In his memoir, Reagan directly mentioned a quote from the movie in relation about the signing.

In short, this movie literally ended the Cold War.

This film employs many of the same tropes as its UK counterpart, Threads, a much tougher-minded exploration of nuclear war's impact produced the following yea. Also compare Testament, released that same year, which depicts the aftereffects of a nuclear attack for a suburban community outside the blast zone.

Not to be confused with The Day After Tomorrow.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
  • After the End: Most of the film deals with life after the nuclear exchange. A major point of the film is that a full-scale thermonuclear war is pretty much unsurvivable, even for those not immediately killed in the atomic blasts. To start with, radioactive particles are everywhere, pervasive throughout the environment, and it is impossible to simply clean them off. All farmland topsoil is irradiated and useless; removing it would be a Herculean task even if society wasn't crippled, and even if they could, they have nowhere to store all of it without rain just washing it back again; and even if they did all of that right, crops can't grow on the sand and rocks below topsoil. Moreover, the hospital staff point out that essentially all trees have absorbed radioactive particles to such an extent that burning any firewood will release lethal levels of radiation. They can limp along for a few weeks burning propane and gasoline, but with supply lines destroyed, those won't last long.
  • All There in the Script: It's implied in the screenplay that Boyle and Starr, the soldiers that McCoy and his colleagues mention back at the Whiteman Air Force Base, are the missile silo staff featured in the stock footage from First Strike that launch the missiles.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: Part of what makes the film so effective is its setting in the American heartland, underscoring the fact that there is nowhere to run in a nuclear war.
  • An Aesop: A nuclear war is unwinnable for any side. Even if you survive the war, the conditions will be so bleak, you'll consider death a blessing.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: The ending caption.
    "The catastrophic events you have just witnessed are, in all likelihood, less severe than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike against the United States. It is hoped that the images of this film will inspire the nations of this earth, their peoples and leaders, to find the means to avert the fateful day."
  • Anyone Can Die: Played straight. A number of major characters are killed off halfway through the film when the attack happens; others die in the aftermath; and the film ends with a big question mark for the remainder.
  • Apocalypse How: Definitely a Class 1 (Societal Disruption), likely a Class 2 (Societal Collapse) due to the Inferred Holocaust (see below). In a televised debate after the film was first aired on TV, Carl Sagan first publicly introduced the concept of nuclear winter (which at that point had been briefly discussed in a pamphlet Sagan published that year, The Nuclear Winter). With this in mind, the events of The Day After could easily develop into a Class 4 (Total Extinction; Threads, produced a year later, takes into account nuclear winter's effects).
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: Looters get so bad in the post-war devastation that the Army is allowed to utilize summary execution.
  • Apocalyptic Montage: The attack sequence.
  • Artistic License – Military: There should have been a lot more bombs going off. The strike is implied to be a counterforce attack,note  which means each target, be it a silo or a control center or an airbase, would be struck by at least 2 warheads. In practice, both sides often targeted dozens of warheads at individual sites to guarantee destruction. Like the end credits say, things would be worse in Real Life.
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • The sound of the explosion and the blast reach Dr. Oakes at the same time as the light, despite the fact that he's thirty miles from Ground Zero.
    • Marilyn's death by vaporization is shown to occur much slower than it would have in Real Life. In the movie it takes two or three seconds, which allows viewers to see the sequence of fireball, clothing catching on fire, vaporization of flesh, and vaporization of bone. In Real Life it would have taken a thousandth of a second or less, and the character wouldn't have had time to feel anything, let alone react.note  This one though rules under Rule of Perception, because viewers seeing it that quickly wouldn't be able to judge what exactly just happened.note 
  • Bowdlerize: Whiteman Air Force Base is actually located near the town of Knob Noster, Missouri. It's described here as being near Sedalia because the word "knob" has a rude meaning in British English, and the network was hoping to release the movie theatrically in the UK. This may be true; however, Knob Noster (and Whiteman Air Force Base) are quite close to Sedalia (~20 miles west). In the event of a general nuclear exchange, this distance would have afforded zero protection; Sedalia was at the time surrounded by Minuteman missile silos and related facilities on all sides.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: With all their modern day equipment fried from electromagnetic pulses, the University of Kansas staff manage to get an old vacuum tube radio working again.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Cynthia argues with her fellow students that the U.S. would never launch nukes to defend Europe, even as news unfolds of rapidly escalating conflict in Germany.
    Cynthia: Look! Did we help the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Afghans, or the Poles? Well, we're not gonna nuke the Russians to save the Germans! I mean, if you were talking oil in Saudi Arabia, then I'd be real worried!
  • Captain Oblivious: The Hendrys are completely oblivious to the oncoming war, so much so that the husband talks over an EBS alert to tell his wife that they need a good day's rain before the harvest. The couple also sneak upstairs to have sex while their kids watch news reports that nuclear war has broken out. The first clue they have of the war is the launching of a nearby ICBM. Their attempts to flee come too late and the family is engulfed by a fireball and incinerated.
  • Continuity Snarl: It is said in the film that the Soviets destroyed Beale Air Force Base in Marysville, CA (part of the BMEWS), but as the nuclear war gets underway, Beale sends a missile warning to Looking Glass, even though it's supposed to be nothing but rubble at this point (it's unclear how the base was destroyed, though it can be assumed it was simply bombed via conventional means). This was because of stock footage from First Strike being used, and the error not being caught during editing.
  • Crisis Point Hospital: Following the nuclear attack, the Kansas University hospital is overrun with patients. Plus, because it was only a campus hospital prior to the war, supplies are already limited, and thanks to the EMP, working electrical appliances are in short supply. On the upside, they at least have the experienced Dr Oakes to take charge. Unfortunately, it doesn't improve much: as time goes on, the morgue is abandoned in favor of mass graves, lack of clean water runs the risk of spreading cholera, fights break out over the remaining food, and the number of patients skyrockets. Ultimately, the hospital's relative functionality is its downfall: once people realize that there's a working medical facility, people flock to it in droves, turning the place into a refugee camp and making the situation even harder to control. By the end, patients are being kept on the campus basketball courts.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Radiation Sickness—survivors of the nuclear war exposed to too much fallout can still wind up dying up to a month later. Victims slowly waste away, losing hair, bruising and hemorrhaging the whole time. The most horrifying thing is just how common it becomes. Four of the film's protagonists succumb to it. note 
  • Dead-Hand Shot: Numerous bodies sticking out of rubble, many blackened. Most of it is seen toward the end of the movie when Dr. Oakes, dying of radiation sickness, goes to see what's left of Kansas City before he dies.
  • Death from Above: Plenty of this is exchanged between the West and East via ICBMs.
  • Death of a Child: Children are seen trampled, vaporized, and engulfed by a wall of flame. Another child is shown slumped over with what can be assumed to be his grandmother, both of whom are dead. The murder of the youngest Dahlberg child (with her mother) by squatters is implied. In the workprint version of the film, it becomes evident that the Dahlbergs didn't make it.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: The film obliterates the idea of surviving a nuclear war. The survivors either are stricken with fatal Acute Radiation Sickness, at high risk for cancer, or will endure other kinds of hardship like starvation and murder.
  • Disaster Movie: Standard fare: lots of actors with characters that don't survive the world-changing event. Unlike most examples of this kind of film, though, the story ends with the very visible question of whether or not the people who survived actually have anything good to look forward to.
  • Downer Ending: What else would you expect from a film like this?
  • During the War: One that is over "by the next commercial break."
  • Emergency Broadcast: The Emergency Broadcast System cuts into programming numerous times during the few hours before the strike, but nobody pays attention. Moreover, at no time is an Emergency Action Notification shown to be broadcast; the key EBS interruption is actually shown to lead directly into a news broadcast reporting on the nuclear airbursts which in real life would not have occurred. As the sirens are blaring in Kansas City and panic is gripping the residents, a FEMA agent is calmly suggesting on the radio that travellers in the metropolitan area take a moment to locate a nearby shelter, "although there is no direct threat to the Kansas City area". This was quite deliberate on the part of the writer and director, who visited a FEMA office as part of their research only to discover that the agency was more interested in publishing obscure pamphlets than in actually preparing for nuclear war.
  • EMP: A high-altitude nuclear detonation over North America destroys most electrical infrastructure (and electronics) in America before the country itself is hit. A rapid montage of cars immediately dying, lights going out, and electrical equipment (including at a hospital) failing drives home the extent of the damage before a single nuke even takes out a city.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: One of the points of the film is to show that a nuclear strike would not destroy everything quickly and cleanly; there would be a long, painful aftermath.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Once he starts to succumb to radiation sickness, Dr. Oakes has a fever dream in which he remembers all of his friends and family who have died.
  • Fate Worse than Death: As time goes on, Jim Dahlberg finds survival less lucky compared to those who died instantly from the nukes.
  • Fallout Shelter Fail: In the face of World War III, guards at a missile silo opt to hide in the now-empty silo, mentioning that it's built like a bomb shelter and stocked with enough supplies for the next two weeks... but one of them points out that the nukes targeting the launch sites will easily destroy the silo regardless of how fortified it is. As such, it's not so surprising that McCoy decides to risk leaving the base in the hopes of reaching his family. His fellow guards are never seen again, so it's a safe bet they didn't make it.
  • Fleeing for the Fallout Shelter: Huge swathes of the American population are caught off-guard by the nuclear attack warnings, leaving everyone sprinting for whatever cover they can find. The lucky ones are guided en mass into basements in panicked mobs, trampling at least one unlucky character in the process; everyone else is forced to take cover in whatever buildings were left open - or, if they were caught on the highway when the EMP went off, their cars. The Dahlbergs are fortunate enough to have a shelter prepared in their basement, but it takes some effort to get everyone to it, with Eve having a breakdown and having to be carried down to the shelter, and Danny Dahlberg getting blinded by the flash from a detonation and having to be carried as well in the remaining seconds before the blast.
  • GIS Syndrome: A good chunk of the attack sequence is obviously stock footage.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: While speaking with Dr. Oakes, Dr. Landowska invokes this trope.
    Dr. Landowska: There is a rumor that they are evacuating Moscow. There are people even leaving Kansas City because of the missile base. Now I ask you: To where does one go from Kansas City? The Yukon? Tahiti? We are not talking about Hiroshima anymore. Hiroshima was...was peanuts!
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Alluded to with shots of a pale white horse during the "calm before the storm" moment before the U.S. launches its ICBMs, and after the missiles are launched.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: One of the survivors we follow throughout the film is a pregnant woman, and aside from the fact there's no power and very scant medical supplies when she ends up in labor and she actually despairs and points out that there's no real hope for the future in any way, shape or form, let alone by having to raise a child in such hellish conditions, her baby is born with good health.
  • Infodump: After the nuclear exchange, once Dr. Oakes makes it back to the campus hospital at the University of Kansas, he attends a meeting with the staff discussing their current situation and what to do. The ensuing conversation serves as a way to inform the audience about the effects of EMP, how that impacts their ability to function as a hospital, and the problems they face in finding alternative means to get fuel and water.
  • Just Before the End: The movie starts off this way.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Mr. Dahlberg gets blown away by a squatter with a shotgun when he tries to protest them barging into his backyard and spit-roasting his animals. He makes it as far as "this is my home-!"
  • Man on Fire: One is seen briefly during the nuclear attack. Dr. Oakes' daughter's lower body also combusts before she is vaporized. The Hendrys are also seen being engulfed by a fireball.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": When the sirens sound above Kansas City, everybody panics.
  • Middle-of-Nowhere Street: Bruce invokes this while listening to a discussion on the possibility of a nuclear attack at a barber shop. Huxley provides him with a healthy dose of realistic consequences—
    Bruce Gallatin: What do you really think the chances of something like that happening way the hell out here in the middle of nowhere?
    Professor Huxley: Nowhere? (laughs) There's no "nowhere" anymore. You're sitting right next to the Whiteman Air Force Base right now. That's about ... 150 Minuteman Missile silos spread halfway down the State of Missouri. That's ... an awful lot of bulls-eyes.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: World War III is shown to start (and/or end, depending on how you look at it) on 16 September, 1989. note 
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the original broadcast, the President's speech to the nation was done by a voice that many assumed to be Ronald Reagan. However, the script says the voice is supposed to be that of George H. W. Bush, implying that Reagan did not make it to Mount Davis in time and was killed in Washington (since Bush was Reagan's vice president back then). Later broadcasts and home releases redubbed the speech with a more generic, stereotypically presidential voice which has the benefit of not dating the film to a specific era.
  • Offhand Backhand: How Mr. Dahlberg dies, in spirit. For the man who executed him when he tried to protest people squatting on his farm without even bothering to try to ask, The Snack Is More Interesting.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The mushroom clouds were generated by injecting ink into a tank that was used to create the nebula in Meyer's previous film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • Oh, Crap!: A beautifully understated one from an Air Force officer at Beale AFB's PAVE PAWS radar station: "I want to confirm: is this an exercise? ... Roger, copy—" And then to rest of the staff, "This is not an exercise!"
    • And immediately after, a similarly understated "oh crap" from a SAC Airborne Command Post crewmember: "Major Reinhardt, we have a massive attack against the U.S. at this time! ICBMs, numerous ICBMs!"
  • Ominous Hair Loss: The film naturally features several characters losing clumps of hair as radiation exposure takes its toll on them. In one especially poignant scene, Denise Dahlberg laments that the makeshift hospital she's staying at has given her a ribbon - only by now, she doesn't have any hair to put it in.
    • In a deleted scene, it's revealed that the ribbon is actually a triage marker, meaning "certain to die, do not waste medical attention."
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Dr. Oakes' daughter Marilyn is vaporized in the initial attack on Kansas City. He never sees his wife Helen or his son Alan again after the bombs hit, and he's indicated to be dying of radiation poisoning by the end himself. Airman Billy McCoy loses his wife and child in the bombings as well.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Traffic Jam: the precursor to this trope is implied when the mass of people fleeing an impending nuclear attack on Kansas City become trapped in a doomed traffic jam.
  • Principles Zealot: In his post-war address, the President of the United States assures the American public that "there has been no surrender, no retreat, from the principles of liberty and democracy, for which the free world looks to us for leadership!" All set to a montage of the suffering scant survivors of the nuclear war, as well as the dying and the dead.
  • "Ray of Hope" Ending: One of the last scenes is Oakes being offered an onion and being comforted by the family squatting on his property. The implication is that despite the horrors of war, human kindness and empathy will still be there.
  • Quieter Than Silence:
    • The "calm before the storm" scene, with Stephen Klein walking down a farm road just before Whiteman AFB launches its nukes. Also applies to a number of other scenes after the nuclear attack.
    • Also done with respect to the music—although there isn't much music to begin with, almost all of it is heard before the nuclear exchange, and the majority of it was in the First Strike footage. What follows afterward is mostly ominous ambiance.
  • The Radio Dies First: The first warhead is an airburst that creates an EMP, knocking out everything electrical, including all communications equipment.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Who launched their nukes first, the United States or the Soviet Union? The point of not answering this seems to be to ask, "does it matter?"
  • Sanity Slippage: Everybody breaks down, some even before the warheads starting hitting. For many characters, it is a race if they would fall into the deep end before the radiation sickness gets to them.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Cynthia refuses to believe the end is near after she sees a multitude of ICBMs launching.
    Cynthia: What's going on?
    Joe Huxley: Those are Minuteman missiles!
    Cynthia: Like a test, sort of ... like a warning?
    Joe Huxley: They're on their way to Russia. They take about thirty minutes to reach their target.
    Aldo: So do theirs, right?
  • Serial Escalation: Through radio and news broadcasts, we have the following which leads to World War III:
    • The Soviet Union has begun a military buildup in East Germany in an attempt to bully the United States into giving up West Berlin, followed by the Soviets sending armored divisions to the borders of East and West Germany after the Americans refused to back down. Some time on Friday, September 15th, reports of "widespread rebellion" in the East German forces force the Soviet Army to blockade West Berlin. The American President issues his ultimatum: either the Soviet Union backs off and lifts the blockade by 6:00 AM the following morning, or their actions will be interpreted as an act of war. The Soviets refuse, and the President puts all U.S. military forces around the world on DEFCON 2 alert.

      The following day, NATO forces invade East Germany via the Helmstedt–Marienborn border crossing, but the Soviets hold the corridor while inflicting heavy losses on the invading forces. At the same time, two Soviet fighter jets bomb a NATO munitions facility (and inadvertently hitting a hospital and a school in the process). Moscow is later evacuated, while in the U.S., a mass exodus is also taking place in the main cities (though no such evacuation is depicted as taking place in Kansas City; indeed, up to the attack life is shown proceeding as normal, with people going to movies, ball games, and getting married, rather than trying to escape). Unconfirmed reports of nuclear weapons used in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt soon follow. In the Persian Gulf, naval warfare commences between the Soviet and American navies with losses on both sides.

      Once the Soviet Army reaches the Rhine River, NATO forces airburst three low-yield nukes over the troops in an attempt to keep the Soviets from invading France and the rest of Western Europe; this event triggers an Emergency Broadcast announcement in the United States. The Soviets retaliate by launching a nuclear strike at NATO's Brussels headquarters. The American forces scramble B-52 bombers and enacts the "launch-on-warning" policy (meaning that if they receive reports of the Russians launching their nukes at America, then the U.S. will do the same). The Soviet Air Force then destroy two BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning Stations) at RAF Fylingdales and Beale Air Force Base respectively.

      The order from the President is swift: a full nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, while at the same time, an Air Force officer receives word that a massive Soviet nuclear strike has been launched against the United states, with "32 targets in track, with 10 impacting points," and another airman receives word that over 300 Soviet ICBMs are inbound. In the film, it is deliberately unclear over who fires first.
  • Shoot the Dog: Jim Dahlberg left the family dog, Rusty, out of the shelter because they wouldn't be able to spare food and water for him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The writer echoes Philip Wylie's Tomorrow! in having one family (the Dahlbergs) ready and prepared for nuclear war and another (the Hendrys) unprepared and in denial. In Wylie's book, the unprepared family is destroyed while the prepared family thrives; in The Day After, the unprepared family simply dies faster and with less suffering.
    • The last name of Dr. Oakes' colleague, Dr. Sam Hachiya, is an homage to Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, an important chronicler of the Hiroshima bombing's aftermath.
    • Huxley's shortwave call for "anybody out there" is almost verbatim from the darkest moments of The War of the Worlds.
    • The execution of the looters is also lifted nearly verbatim from The War Game.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: The page quote. Dr. Oakes tells Alison to have hope and she snaps back that this isn't something they can just brush off.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • Following the electromagnetic pulse that shut off the majority of the Midwest's electricity, many people were distracted by trying to get their vehicles to start up again, wasting what little time they might have had to protect themselves.
    • In the live debate that was broadcasted a short while after the film premiered, Carl Sagan put paid to the "We'd win" aspect of nuclear warfare by comparing it to two belligerents in a basement awash with gasoline, one holding nine thousand matches and the other holding seven thousand. All that those two people are concerned about is who's ahead and who's stronger, despite the fact that if either of them strikes a match, it won't matter.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The opening titles music is a stirring, patriotic-sounding song, at times segueing into a gentle, pastoral melody.
  • Staggered Zoom: So long, Kansas City ...
  • Stock Footage: Much of the missile launch and detonation scenes make use of footage from actual tests of ICBMs and nuclear warheads. All the footage involving Air Force Space Command (the PAVE PAWS staff) and Strategic Air Command forces (the B-52 bombers, the missile silo staff preparing to launch, and the command crew aboard the EC-135 Looking Glass) are taken from a 1979 PBS documentary produced by the United States Air Force, First Strike, which hypothesized the possibility of the Soviet Union performing a decapitating surprise attack on America's own nuclear forces and winning, presumably annexing America. The people in those scenes were the real men and women of the USAF—even the commanding officers. Stock footage was also used from several films:
    • A shot of people scrambling was from Two-Minute Warning.
    • The skyscraper shown being blown up was actually the World Trade Center from Meteor.
    • The bridge collapsing during the attack was from Superman: The Movie, of all films.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Except you aren't meant to find this cool.
  • This Is Not a Drill: When the ICBMs come raining down, the staff at the PAVE PAWS Missile Warning Radar station in Beale AFB declare "This is not an exercise!" after calling to confirm this.
  • Together in Death: One memorable shot has a couple at a wedding vaporized mid-kiss.
  • Too Dumb to Live: There's some cases where people are so in denial about the pending nuclear attacks that they try to continue on with life as usual—
    • Eve Dahlberg stubbornly continues to do housework until she's dragged down to the cellar by force.
    • In a combination with Out with a Bang, the Hendrys had sex as the nuclear war began. If you're going to die anyway, might as well Go Out with a Smile!
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Threads.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The dates in the film place it in 1989.
  • Uncertain Doom: Eve Dahlberg and her last surviving child are both seen huddling together in their home's kitchen right after Mr. Dahlberg was shot by squatters. The film as released leaves in the air whether or not the squatters killed them as well, but the workprint cut makes clear that they were.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: Downplayed, but there is one very specific detail that a few characters ask for the sake of trying to feel there is still some sense in this world: who fired first, the Americans or the Russians? The answer by the other characters is that it does not matter, everybody is screwed either way.note 
  • War Comes Home: Invoked Trope with the characters of Kansas City, Missouri and Lawrence, Kansas. They have to face the horror of nuclear warfare being used against them and their cities are destroyed by ICBM attacks, along with almost every other population center in the United States and the rest of the world.
  • World War III: One of the classic film depictions.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: An odd subversion, at the end of the film, we see a man trying to get the jewellery off a corpse. Yeah, the soft metal and the tiny super hard rock is going to be worth loads After the End. It gets worse. Normal gold is 197Au. When exposed to neutron flux—say, from a thermonuclear detonation—gold can catch an extra neutron, becoming 198Au. 198Au is a dangerously radioactive β⁻ emitter with a half-life of about 2.7 days. To make matters even worse, 198Au decays into 198Hg—as in mercury, which may be stable but is highly toxic.
  • X-Ray Sparks: Used to depict the fortunate victims who were close enough to get vaporized by the nukes. That said, technology not available to 1983 audiences allows the viewer to slow down the section and realize that most of the images used to show the vaporization don't make much sense. One minute, Kansas City is seen descending into panic as air raid sirens blare and terrified citizens run haphazardly through the streets. Yet the subsequent vaporization scenes show people enjoying a day at the park, sitting in bars and coffee shops, quietly reading books in easy chairs, playing in the school band, etc. (Many are stills recycled from the beginning of the movie, i.e. three days ago in-universe.) The only victim of vaporization with any awareness of the events under way is Marilyn Oakes, the first victim shown on screen.

”This is Lawrence. This is Lawrence, Kansas. Is there anybody there? Anybody at all?”


The Day After

The attack sequence.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ApocalypticMontage

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