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REVIEW: Red Dawn

Anonymous — September 1984

Directed by John Milius. Written by Milius and Kevin Reynolds, distributed by MGM/UA.

Reviewed by Ed Silva

Almost everyone in the Canadian peace movement will hear about Red Dawn, and almost everyone in the movement should go see the movie. It is an important film to see and talk about with friends and neighbours, for it offers us one of Ronald Reagan’s favourite fantasies. And since the acting is good and the action fast-paced, we get to see in fairly fully realized fashion how some right-wing American movie-makers think a ‘limited nuclear war’ might go.

The story is charming. Three small-town, middle-American teenagers drive their 4×4 to school one Monday morning, hamming it up about the football team’s loss that weekend. Then, during their history class, red dawn: invading Soviet-bloc paratroopers drop from the skies. It is World War III.

But, although atomic weapons have been used by the Soviets to “knock out all our key silos,” the nuclear exchange is limited (for reasons never made clear in the movie.) By movie magic, the ‘day after,’ which we know will happen after any such use of atomic weapons, vanishes. Accordingly, this movie does not show us the unimaginable vaporization of millions of men, women and children, followed by the uncountable slower and more painful deaths of the survivors as society falls apart, and ‘nuclear winter’ sets in.

Instead, the three high school boys and some of their friends dash up to the countryside, becoming “freedom fighters.” As American guerillas, they manage to frustrate and humiliate the Red invaders, until after several months, the technologically superior professionals overwhelm the young patriots. But, as the closing scene shows us, the Americans eventually win WW III, putting up a monument to the teenage partisans.

Charm marred

Of course, the overall charm of the movie is marred here and there. For example, Canadians (who know how closely our fate is tied to the United States) will be surprised that our country is only mentioned in passing; as part of the route taken by Soviet forces into the States. And again, those who realise how deeply the U.S. government is involved in the undeclared invasion of Nicaragua will smile at the irony of the Nicaraguans being part of the Soviet-bloc forces invading middle America. Still, such warts do not really hurt the movie’s essential appeal.

Impossible dream

Basically Red Dawn is the rightwing answer to The Day After. It shows us that the next world war is winnable, if we have the courage to put up with the level of personal pain and social disorder experienced the last time around. Since we all know that this is a truly impossible dream, the well-publicized and wellmade Red Dawn provides us with a wonderful opportunity to show people the real perils that face us. World War III will set in motion tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, beginning a nightmare from which none of us will awake. Teenage freedom fighters will not save us or themselves. What will save us — and them — is what has saved us all for four decades; the continuous efforls of the world-wide peace movement.

Let’s tell our friends and neighbours what’s wrong with Red Dawn, the idea of ‘limited nuclear war,’ and the fundamental weakness of defending ourselves with weapons that destroy us.