Red Dawn. 1984. A bunch of misfit high school kids work together to defend their town from an invading Russian military force. Patrick Swayze as the cool older brother. Charlie Sheen. Lea Thompson (I had such an ’80s crush on Lea…). Jennifer Grey. What’s not to love? WOLVERINES!
I was in grade 10, a misfit outcast just starting high school, and watched this movie maybe a dozen times. It was set in small town redneck Colorado. Which felt not too different from Calgary…
There was something about the threat and horror of nuclear war, “the enemy” on North American soil, and an underground guerilla resistance movement that stopped and repelled the invaders that captured my imagination. It’s something that would be simply taught in history class for anyone growing up in Europe – but here, safe in Canada, we’ve never had to put much serious thought into aggressive invading armies (well, not for a few years, anyway, but we showed them! *shakesfist*)
I guess what caught me was the forced self reliance, the adaptability, the absolution of caste, and the need to work together to survive. Sure, the movie was violent, but it was a guerilla war movie. It needed to be violent. The fact that it wasn’t a shiny, happy, “good guys always win” story was important, too. The Wolverines didn’t magically kick Soviet ass, as they would have in a Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay film. They struggled. They died. They sacrificed. And in the end the remaining survivors withdraw in the hopes of finding others.
Growing up in Canada, I wasn’t living in daily fear of Soviet invasion, or nuclear warheads raining out of the skies. We figured if anything went down, we’d likely be catching the debris as Reagan’s Star Wars™ shield zapped Soviet missiles over Canadian airspace. Boom and sizzle, sure, but not invading occupation forces. During the olympics in ’88, the Soviet team pins and jackets were the hottest items for trade. Everyone wanted to get Soviet stuff, and meet the athletes. Certainly no fear, at least.