Saw Countdown to Zero at Phoenix Square film and Digital Media Centre this evening. I have to say that while there are some chilling moments (particularly footage of the 2004 Madrid train bombings at the start of the film in which we witness real people dying in terror), it's not quite as scary as I'd been led to belief by the reviews and by word of mouth. Although what that says about the kind of world we live in today, when I'm not scared stiff by the still very likely prospect of nuclear annihilation (or what it says about me), I'll leave you to judge, faithful reader.
An extract from President John F Kennedy's address before the General Asssembly of the United Nations, 25 September 1961, provides the film's core text:
"Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slendesrest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident, or miscalculation, or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."
The film is in three parts of roughly equal length, looking at how nuclear weapons might be use "at any moment, by accident, miscalculation, or by madness" respectively. It also brings up incidents from history, where they were almost used for these reasons. The man conentionally regarded as the father of the atom bomb, Robert Oppenheimer (1904-67), features throughout. He's spooky and frightening (mind you, who wouldn;t be if every time you appear on film, you're shown in slo mo, then frreeze frame at the moment you look into the camera?). Near the end of the film, he is shown in later life, apparently close to tears, recalling the experience of the first successful test of a nuclear bomb:
"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that one way or another."
This famous interview can be seen on YouTube. Oppenheimer's statement is not the only overt reference to religion in the film.
Viewers of the film are invited to take action by visiting Countdown to Zero: Take Action and adding their name name to an electronic declaration, committing themselves to working toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.
WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, believe that to protect our children, our grandchildren and our civilization from the threat of nuclear catastrophe, we must eliminate all nuclear weapons globally. We therefore commit to working for a legally binding verifiable agreement, including all nations, to eliminate nuclear weapons by a date certain.
I added my name to the 405,421 who have already signed the Declaration.