TESTAMENT (1983) One of the best, most depressing post-apocalyptic films around. Kevin Costner, Lucas Haas and William Devane.

testament_usposter_smallTheme Song: There’s a bunch of James Horner music featuring horns and ominous sounds.

Interesting Dated References: Nuclear war. Communities banding together and being neighborly. An unhappy ending with no hope for the future.

Best Line: Said by a young Lukas Haas during the school play — “Your children are not dead, they will return, they are just waiting until the world deserves them.”

Social Context: It’s all here, an unadulterated view of what it would be like post-apocalypse. Sure they sort of ignore crime and looting, but perhaps this is just a view of what it would be like in white bread suburbs of America. I’m really surprised this was even made as a Hollywood movie. No happy ending, no uplifting plot, nothing. Just non-stop depressing scene after depressing scene. Do you know how many dead kids are in this movie?

Summary: If you went to grade school in the midwest in the 80s, then you may have been forced to sit through watching Testament on more than one occasion like myself. For those of you who don’t remember Testament, let me explain a little bit about why it was such a big deal with teachers and people who were over 30 in 1983. First of all, the film was lauded for its realistic, non-sensational view of life after the bomb drops. Whereas movies like The Day After, Threads, and Miracle Mile showcase a certain amount of sensationalism, this one does not. For some reason this makes the movie all the more horrifying, especially if you were a parent to a young child in the early 80s. Second, the movie has good actors and is expertly done.

Testament begins with a simple domestic scene of a family getting ready for work and school. The father (William Devane of Rolling Thunder fame) makes his son go on a bike ride with him around the picturesque neighborhood. He spouts off about how important it is to get out and ride a bike and gets all motivational. Meanwhile back at home, Carol (the mom) and the younger son, Scottie (Lukas Haas), and the teenage daughter, Mary Liz, do morning stuff. As Devane rides around town, he stops and sees Mike the gas station guy and his son, Hiroshi, who has Down Syndrome. All of this reeks of trite plot set up, but somehow it doesn’t come off as too forceful. Then everyone is on their way to work/school. Skipping through the day to that night, we next see the parents in bed on the very same comforter my parents had and William Devane is doing a good job of acting irritated at his wife’s incessant whining. He may not even be acting. In order to calm her down, he tries successfully to get some action.

The next day the morning routine scene is repeated and after all the days activities transpire, we see mom checking the answering machine.


That’s an answering machine. The kids sit around watching TV and adjusting something called “an antenna,” which apparently used to be a way to channel television signals into your home. Then it happens. A news broadcast reports nuclear attacks up and down the east coast.


And in a scene I distinctly remember being very traumatizing, nuclear radiation hits the house. After this initial light blast, people gather in the street to try to figure out what happened. Everyone gathers at the old man survivalist/C.B. guy’s house and after a little briefing, everyone goes back home. Devane has still not shown up back home from work, however. The next morning, the kids eat breakfast and complain about dust on the plates and how the milk tastes funny. This is all done very tastefully and without any of the shock tactics used in many of the post-apocalyptic films of the era. There is accomplished filmmaking going on here, with many slow panning shots of everyday life after a nuclear attack. Oh, then everyone goes to church to argue and showcase their extremist views and overacting abilities, including a young Kevin Costner, which means along with Waterworld and The Postman, this is the first installment of his post-apocalyptic trilogy.

So, the community tries to somewhat resume business-as-usual by putting on a school play, etc. The play is particularly morbid as absent children are replaced with other children who are not sick. Through voiceovers by the wife, we learn Devane has been missing for 11 days. Costner shows up again holding a bureau drawer inside of which he is going to bury his now-dead child. This movie is a major depressor. So the family takes in another kid, and then all types of mild fighting among the children begins.

Back at the community church meeting, we learn that about 1,300 have died, garbage pickup has ceased, and the police are barely functioning, so much so that the sheriff cries. Then the daughter reminisces with her mother about the time she walked in her parents having sex. The mother proceeds to explain what it’s like to fall in and make love. Super weird. The scene goes on forever as the mom talks romantically about the girl’s dad and falling in love. Then the girl declares that it will never happen to her.


Then Haas gets diarrhea in the sink and then he dies. The mom gets all ballistic and depressed and they bury him in the backyard. I must clarify the one unrealistic thing about this movie is the lack of looting and rape, but maybe if something this bad happened, it would take the fight out of everyone and none of that would happen.

Eventually we are witness to the oh-so-uplifting scene of the mother wrapping up her dead daughter in a sheet. I really can’t believe we had to watch this in school. What sort of lesson plan did this fit into? The son goes and rescues the kid Hiroshi (Down Syndrome kid) after his father dies in one of the best done post-apocalyptic wasteland scenes ever. The old C.B./Ham Radio guy dies and the boy kind of takes over, but shit is so goddamn bleak I can’t even tell what’s going on. The mom starts throwing up and people burn bodies of the dead. Then she attempts to kill herself, her son, and Hiroshi inside the garage by leaving the car running, but she backs out. Caving on that plan, she instead delivers a speech about surviving, etc., and then the movie closes with a bunch of home movie footage of the family having all kinds of fun.

Poster and Box Art: Simple and to the fact, the poster for Testament is bleak and the tagline represents the movie perfectly.

Availability: A DVD is available but it doesn’t appeared to be restored or given any type of special treatment.


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