End Times in the Antipodes: Propaganda and Critique in On the Beach

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

nternational Law and the Cold War. Edited by Matthew C. R. Craven, Cambridge University Press, 2019.


international law; Cold War; US; USSR; On the Beach; law and film; world-making; nuclear weapons; propaganda; critique; cinematic geopolitics; Walter Benjamin; Rancière; nuclear testing


This chapter undertakes to explore a particular seismic shift in the fields of both thought and perception unfolding during the early part of the Cold War, as governments and publics grappled uneasily with the threat of nuclear war. I focus on the exploration of a particular cinematic event: the global release in late 1959 of the anti-nuclear war dystopian film On the Beach. Directed by the American Stanley Kramer and based on a 1957 novel by the British-Australian Nevil Shute, the film offers an opportunity to revisit and reflect on the tangled intersections between the cultural, legal and geopolitical orientations of this ‘hot’ Cold War moment from a new angle. While in 1959 an international legal architecture governing nuclear testing and nuclear non-proliferation had yet to emerge, the approach taken in this chapter suggests that a re-examination of this kind – that is attentive to the modes of perception (as well as discourse) that are emergent in this moment may be of interest to contemporary legal scholars seeking to make sense of a world in which nuclear threats have not abated, and international law’s role in managing that threat remains in question.

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