War Games, Fail-Safe, Dr. Strangelove

In 1998, there were two movies about a natural catastrophe: Armageddon & Deep Impact.

In 2006, there were two movies about magicians living outside the reality-based community: The Prestige & The Illusionist.

In 1964, there were two movies about systems failure and nuclear war: Dr. Strangelove & Fail-Safe.

You’ve probably never heard of the second one even though it was directed by a director whose movies were widely seen (Sidney Lumet) and starred actors with long careers: Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman and (!) Dom DeLuise.

Both movies end with catastrophe ā€“ nuclear annihilation ā€“ because humans (men, really) can’t get it right before the system they’ve built kills them.

Dr. Strangelove came out first and did better. But I suspect that part of the reason why it’s better known is that it was funnier and used symbols more effectively.

War Games was released almost 20 years after both movies (1983). I consider it iconic and I think many would agree (“Would you like to play a game?”).

Like Dr. Strangelove, War Games is not only funny, it works as both a realistic drama and an allegory.

In War Games, the system is a more developed character: it’s physically embodied as a computer (that gets plenty of close-up’s!) and even has two names. The military calls it WOPR but its inventor names it Joshua ā€“ after the creator’s dead son!

One day, Joshua, the computer, strikes up a friendship with a real boy who likes to play with computers and… hijinks ensue!

The relationship beween the computer boy and the real boy not only drives the movie, it gets us to a very different ending.

The human boy teaches the computer that some games are not worth playing. The computer then teaches this lesson to the serious adults in the room by giving them a nuclear war scare (simulation).

In other words, in War Games, humanity survives by letting young people lead the way (as Ally Sheedy convincingly argues: 17 year-olds really want to live).

I just saw War Games again last night and I found it to be just as good for the 45 year-old Jose as for the 12 year-old me. Really, it’s excellent.

The comedy is very dry and the jokes come fast. I think it could be grouped with Dr. Strangelove, for sure, but also Robocop, among others.

Iā€™m in the middle of writing a kind of update and I was pleasantly surprised just how much this movie influenced me.

Images “attached” are scenes from Fail-Safe (1964) and War Games (1983)

 scenes from Fail-Safe (1964) and War Games (1983)