Film series explores the atomic age

As the international community struggles with terrorism, the creators of the Atomic Film Series are trying to make sure that Yale keeps the events of August 1945 in mind.

The Atomic Film Series, which is organized in conjunction with a new class on the atomic age, shows nuclear-era films from countries including Japan, America, France, Yugoslavia, Australia and Sweden. The movies feature a variety of genres, such as documentary, science fiction and thriller.

“The situation today involving Iraq, North Korea and [weapons of mass destruction] makes these films quite relevant,” said John Treat, East Asian Languages and Literatures Director of Graduate Studies.

Treat teaches the “Atomic Bombings of Japan in World Culture” class, which is sponsoring the film series.

“The objective of the film series, like in the class, is to show how the events of August 1945, and the subsequent nuclear arms race, have changed culture and the way we live even to the present day,” Treat said.

The movies are primarily intended to add another dimension to Treat’s class, said Charles Exley GRD ’05, a teaching assistant for the class. The course features readings and critical essays by Japanese and other foreign writers that address the issue of nuclear war.

The most recent showing in the series, which took place last Wednesday, was “Fail-Safe”, a 1960s film starring Walter Matthau and Henry Fonda. In the movie, a group of American military men find themselves on the verge of World War III when a computer error initiates a nuclear attack on Moscow that cannot be stopped because of a pre-programmed “fail-safe” system.

“The movie was definitely very powerful,” said Denise Ong ’04, a student in Treat’s class. “I guess it was just the fact that this could be a real situation in America, and if we go to war, we’ll have to think about it.”

Treat said this film was originally created to show how America’s government and military bureaucracies have grown beyond human control, an assessment Ong said she agreed with.

“Its kind of ironic how much effort we put into the country’s defense and how it just backfired in the movie,” Ong said.

Exley, who introduces each film in the series, said he is happy with the students’ interest in the project.

“The reaction to the movies so far has been positive,” Exley said. “Many of the students are seeing these movies for the first time, so I feel that exposing them to a range of periods, styles, directors and cultures encourages them to ask questions.”

The series will continue to show one film every week until the end of the semester. The next film will be “Godzilla” on Oct. 30.

Exley said the film series caters to a wide audience, not just to those in Treat’s class.

“There is so much variety that it really just depends on personal preference,” Exley said. “Early [science fiction] lovers might enjoy ‘Planet of the Apes, Part 2.’ Those who like dramatic made-for-TV-movies might enjoy ‘Testament.’ Hollywood blockbuster aficionados would enjoy ‘True Lies,’ if they haven’t already seen it; and art-film fans would appreciate the Chekhovian mood of ‘The Sacrifice.'”

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