80s Nostaglia: WarGames (1983) with Matthew Broderick
WarGames (1983) has a great story, and it’s one of those movies I grew up with, as a child of the 80s. It contains every single middle-class fear and anxiety, using most of them to great advantage, to move its rather far-fetched plot. Because the movie is so grounded in realism, the story isn’t all that preposterous, after all. It’s mostly a nostalgia trip for me.
The movie stars Matthew Broderick as David, who accidentally hacks into a government computer at NORAD and nearly starts a nuclear war. The setting is familiar and comfortable. David has a two-story house, his own room, a comfortable neighborhood, and a series of computer equipment. Except for the computer equipment, it’s not a stretch to imagine David as an intelligent everyman.
David is introverted, quirky, and gets in trouble at school, which makes him the perfect character for the young Matthew Broderick, who plays quirky and nerdy to a tee. He would stretch another quirky character for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986, where he perfects his teen goof-off antics. In WarGames, he does more than just goof-off and skip school, instead showing great humanity and intelligence. I would argue there’s something more to his David character than Ferris any day of the week.
I think Matthew Broderick owned the 80s. He had a slew of successful films, and most of them are rewatchable, which means they’re on television all the time so I can become annoyed or jealous of Broderick’s success. The most successful were Glory, Ferris Bueller, and this movie, WarGames. Those are the one’s I remember.
There are a SLEW of familiar faces in this movie, mainstays and character actors, and all of them give pretty decent performances. Ally Sheedy plays David’s young love interest, and she’s another 80s mainstay, cementing her reputation in Breakfast Club a few years later. That movie is also on TV all the damn time.
This movie has a simple anti-war or anti-technology message, which is meant to caution us about giving our humanity away too quickly to machines. I couldn’t tell you if today’s computers operate like the ones in the movie, but I would guess a LOT of our government’s defenses are automated and have many redundant systems controlling every little thing. The parallel is a good one, which is why the movie still holds up today.
The movie stops short of addressing what we SHOULD be doing with our technology, but I guess a word of caution is enough for entertainment’s sake. If you think about it, there were certainly a lot of movies with the same theme, warning us about technology and giving over our humanity to machines. The Terminator is probably the most obvious example.
This movie has another theme I’ve noticed from a recent viewing. It shows the middle class in all its glory, as a backdrop for society and important characteristics. Most of these characteristics are stereotypes, but a lot of other movies from the 80s have the same problem, so it’s mostly been accepted. Many of these things are lesser characteristics or weaknesses, but are played for color or humor most of the time. David has absent parents who are clueless and do the usual 80s parent stuff, like tell him to take out the trash and celebrate his report cards, which are forged. He has his own room, a cute girl “friend”, and a dog. He isn’t very good in school and makes funny comments in class, like any good rebel. David seems imbued with that middle-class morality to be kind to people, especially girls. Best of all, he is intelligent and outwits the dumb government on a couple of occasions, which is a great success for a child of the 80s. Screw big government.
In all, this is a great movie. It has something of a far-fetched story, but I like it because it isn’t just concerned with entertaining you, although it is fun. No, it has humanistic themes to go along with its entertainment, which is why critics probably put up with the stupid 80s stereotypes to begin with. Besides all that, Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy and John Wood all put on good performances to carry the whole thing. John Wood plays Stephen Falken, who is reminiscent of Bill Gates or any aloof computer programmer we’ve never gotten to know. I’m sorta saying that this is another stereotype, but it works in this movie as a bridge to the message about nuclear war, which is related by a computer in a bit of irony: “The only winning move is not to play”.