Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)
Bottom Line: This nuclear war film gets its message across not by showing the devastation of the attack, but through the slow burn of very real and close to home after-effects that follow.
This odd little animated movie came out at the height of the Reagan-era Cold War days prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain when the threat of nuclear destruction still loomed heavy over the world (and no folks, it hasn’t gone away). It was based on a graphic novel written and drawn by Raymond Briggs and the movie follows the source material very closely. It tells the tale of an elderly couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs, living in rural England in the days just before and immediately after a nuclear attack on the country. When they hear about the impending attack, they make all of the preparations according to the instructions in the Civil Defense “Protect and Survive” pamphlet. Then after the bombs hits, they continue to rely on this resource to guide them as they also patiently wait for the government to contact the citizens and tell them that things have returned to normal.
The film adopts a rather unique animation style as the characters are brought to life with typical, line-drawn animation while their house and the other surroundings are depicted mostly with real-life objects (miniatures, I believe) and animated with stop-motion when they move. The film also boasts a soundtrack led by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters (accompanied by The Bleeding Heart Band) and with contributions from David Bowie (who sings the title song), Genesis, Squeeze, and Paul Hardcastle. But the soundtrack is not the highlight of the film, as it stays mostly in the background. Instead, this movie succeeds because of its story and the irony and tragedy that unfolds throughout its relatively short 80 minute running time.
The elderly couple have a very grandparenty demeanor to them in such a way that the viewer feels close to them as if these were two of their own beloved aged relatives. And the Bloggs make a pleasant pair, even if they seem somewhat naïve while at the same time hard-headed and set in their ways. They also have a bit of that British stiff-upper-lip about them that leads them to stubbornly soldier on through the hard times that befall them. Yet all of this leads to their undoing while at the same time the viewer feels a growing despair as if witnessing the last days of dying loved ones.
There have been many movies that have dealt with nuclear destruction, some brilliant (Dr. Strangelove, Fail-Safe), some not so much (Damnation Alley). But few have achieved the same emotional impact of When the Wind Blows as it proceeds from such a simple premise yet delivers such a gut-wrenching blow by the time that the final credits role. This movie is definitely a condemnation of Civil Defense procedures, but it also delivers a stark depiction of the true consequences of the after-effect of a nuclear attack. And it does this not by resorting to shock tactics or gore, but by irony and directness as we watch the deterioration of the two main characters.
Jim and Hilda Bloggs have the utmost faith in their government, and they survived World War II so they blindly assume that things will get back to normal eventually just like in the 1940’s. And they go about their business as best they can after the attack occurs and believe that the Civil Defense instructions give them all the guidance they need to weather out this storm. We can see their misguided faith almost from the beginning, yet only watch in despair as the inevitable approaches. And the final scene of the movie delivers probably one of the most heart-breaking moments in the history of film, even if it has unfairly never been recognized for this. If you can sit through that without shedding a tear, you need to check for a pulse or see if there is an empty alien seedpod in your back yard. This quote from a review of the movie on Amazon.com says it all: “I’m a horror film fan entertained by the likes of Fulci, Argento, D’Amato, Lenzi, et al, but the ending to this movie is shocking beyond anything those guys could produce.”
The film only runs 84 minutes and it is rather slowly paced. But that is broken by occasional moments of ironic humor, and we also find ourselves drawn into the story by the charming appeal of the Bloggs (at least at first) as well as the tension, urgency, and despair surrounding their fate. When the Wind Blows failed to receive much attention in the United States upon its release in 1987, a time when its message should have resonated deeply with audiences. And it has failed to garner much acclaim in the years since, possibly in part because of the end of the Cold War. But this is definitely an important film with a sad yet lyrical quality to it plus a message that transcends its era, and it still should strike a nerve in a world rife with global tension and not yet completely safe from the threat of a nuclear devastation.