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Friday, February 5, 2021

The Very British Apocalypse of ‘When the Wind Blows’ Feels Horrifyingly Relevant Today

The many warnings about just how bleak and terrifying the 1986 animated film When the Wind Blows is still doesn’t prepare you for the reality of it. After all, this is based on a book written by Raymond Briggs, the author of the quaint, nostalgia-inducing animated film The Snowman, a heartwarming festive film that is as synonymous with Christmas to me as Santa and Wham! How could it possibly be terrifying?

When you’ve watched so, so much brutal and intense horror in film, it’s understandable that you’re going to question when something is declared ‘terrifying’. That’s obviously subjective anyway, but in this context of overexposure to terrifying things on film, it’s an important point because it takes something that really hits you in the wrong spot to shake you out of that casual response to terror and fear.

The passage of time and having your own family certainly opens up a whole new box of things to be afraid of. Death and illness become more than morbidly romantic passing notions, they gain weight. 

In When the Wind Blows, a fairly typical old couple, called Jim and Hilda, potter about, living their delightfully mundane lives in an English rural town. The early conversations are eerily reminiscent of those my own parents and grandparents have had; gentle bickering over things being out of place, opinions on the things in the news are injected with personal ignorance and mild intolerance, while the daily routine of chitchat and cups of tea steadily rolls on.

Jim keeps hearing and reading about the threat of war. This evokes powerful nostalgia in him, as he recalls his own glory days of fighting for Queen and country. Sweetly, naively, disturbingly, a part of him wishes he could do it all over again, and while it’s flippant talk from him generally, he does want something to happen.

Both he and Hilda don’t fully comprehend the way war has evolved at this point. The threat is literally nuclear now, and it becomes chillingly clear just how little they know, and how much they assume. Jim takes the impending threat somewhat seriously, reading up on how to prepare for a nuclear explosion and preparing their home just in case by setting up shelter, getting as many supplies as he can. Unfortunately, he really just wants to play at being a soldier again, and through a mixture of old-age forgetfulness and bullish naivety, he and his wife cut corners on this prep repeatedly. A bomb hasn’t even dropped and already this couple made me extremely anxious with their whimsical ways.

Again, for those who grew up on Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, seeing that same kind of style here is incredibly deceptive at first, as it’s just a slightly humorous, and well-realized depiction of an old couple going about their day to day lives, and that just makes what follows even harder to watch.

Because of course the bombs drop, and it’s a strangely beautiful depiction of devastation that acts as the intermission between the twee doddering of a fussy old man and wife, and the creeping death and horrific decision-making of the second half.

There should be relief that the old couple survives, in part thanks to the shelter they’ve made. Maybe they’ll be okay? Maybe there’s something magical about all this like The Snowman? Well, in a manner that’s become unsettlingly familiar as of late. The seriousness of their situation gets diluted by skewed reasoning and impatience, and this ultimately proves lethal.

Sure, they’re probably doomed already – after all, their shelter is just a bunch of doors nailed to a wall, hardly a sufficient shelter for nuclear fallout – but it doesn’t matter, as safety and sense are soon forgotten so the couple can just ‘get on with their lives’. You know when you scream at a character in a slasher film to not go into that room because it means death? That’s how every moment of the second half of When the Wind Blows feels. Disbelief turns to dread, turns to the bleak realization of just how fucked they are.

In a lot of post-apocalyptic drama, there’s a clear drive to make you see the human cost of what happens. The problem is, the situations are usually from the same perspectives of ‘man is the real enemy’, whereas When the Wind Blows is about survival against the threat itself; and it picks a pair of protagonists who don’t ever seem to realize just how close the enemy is, and don’t really put up any kind of fight against the invisible threat. They just blithely walk towards a slow, unpleasant and painful demise, and we have to watch.

What made all this hit harder, was seeing that same attitude present in reality about an unseen killer. It’s made When the Wind Blows disturbingly relevant in a new way. Two perfectly normal people misinterpreting advice and guidelines, stoking the fires of wartime nostalgia as a way of ‘fighting back’, and shockingly going about their daily routine when death itself has moved into every cabinet, drawer, door, and hallway of their house. In both cases, life has changed, almost irreversibly so, and not adapting to that costs lives.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3650905/british-apocalypse-wind-blows-feels-horrifyingly-relevant/

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