The Darkest Hour: or 2 Hours and 5 Minutes of White Male Tears

You win some, you lose some goes the old adage. Well, today I lost one. Specifically, I lost 3-1 for the irregularly annual Christmas Day movie choice. You see, I wanted to see Star Wars again because my mom is a devoted fan (not to mention, I enjoyed my first and so far only viewing). However, we were at a 2-2 impasse… until my sister suggested The Darkest Hour which promptly and unsurprisingly won because my sister, her boyfriend, and my mom are all history nerds.

So to The Darkest Hour we went. And boy was it a dark hour, well 2 hours and 5 minutes to be specific. If I were forced to sum up this movie in one sentence it would be “Gary Oldman masterfully mumbles and bumbles as Churchill through smoky, dimly lit rooms with other old white men.” But I’m not forced to use only one sentence, so a few more follow.

My first problem with The Darkest Hour is not entirely its fault but rather that of the arc of history. If my previous summary doesn’t clearly indicate, diversity is severely lacking in this movie. This is to be expected. However, this lack is made especially problematic when the only women in the film, the most compelling characters in my opinion, are used as tools to demonstrate the emotional depth of Churchill. This comes across most obviously in a scene with his typist, Elizabeth played charmingly by Lily James, wherein he learns her brother died retreating to Dunkirk. This scene is not about Elizabeth or the pain she may have experienced but rather is used to demonstrate that Churchill may, after all, have a heart. I would much rather have seen a movie focus on her perspective – the uncertainty of living in WWII England working for a prime minister who is somewhat of a war monger but ends up on the “right side of history”. Maybe someone else will get on making that film.

Until then, we have another Churchill movie that wants you to feel triumphant with him (count the number of times the word victory is used). However, because it’s history, and we all know the ending, tension is difficult to build. Some historical films, such as Dunkirk, which combine fiction and fact, succeed in this regard, but The Darkest Hour fails. This, in my opinion, is largely due to the mediocre writing and subsequent pacing. The movie is basically a device used to transport viewers between Churchill’s various speeches, and honestly I found myself wishing for more of them.

Other than these speeches, the moments the movie uses to drum up emotion frequently fall flat. In one such moment, I literally laughed out loud when Chamberlain, played by Ronald Pickup, announces, without emotion or context, “I have cancer.” The most egregious example of this manipulation takes place near the climax of the film, when, in a clearly fictional account, Churchill, for no apparent reason, decides to take the Underground to Westminster. The other passengers (whose names he apparently finds time to write down though it is unclear when) are taken aback at first. With some provoking though, they encourage Winston to fight until the very end and not to enter peace talks as the Conservatives in Parliament so badly desire. In this scene, we see the use of the only black person in the film and (again)  women as props to ultimately suggest Churchill is emotionally complex. We, the viewer, are to believe he is the hero of the common people both he and the film believe him to be. It clearly worked for some as the old white male stranger next to me visibly and audibly teared up at the end.

Churchill most certainly is a historical hero, of sorts, worthy of biography; however, this film fails to provide a nuanced perspective to the story. The only nuance present is in Oldman’s performance (and maybe the few scenes of his alcoholism but those are mostly played as jokes). If you like historical films, you’ll probably enjoy this just fine as my family did. However, if like me, you want to see a more critical, or at least entertaining, take on the familiar events of the past I would look elsewhere.

Review of Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighborhood

This winter break I became obsessed with YouTube for a variety of reasons. Too much time on my hands and a desire to learn about myself being possibly the primary ones. In doing so, I discovered the YouTube star and all-around talent Troye Sivan. Finding myself eager to support him in his endeavors outside of YouTube, I used a Target gift card I received for Christmas to purchase the Deluxe, Target edition of Blue Neighborhood.
Which has been in my CD player in my car ever since.
Needless to say this is a decision I do not regret.
So I thought I would review a few of the reasons as to why I have been addicted to this album for two months.
One of those reasons is simply I think it is good music. Overall, the album has a coherent sound. The songs move from one to the next seamlessly, flowing at a generally upbeat pace with soothing electronic waves overlaid. One might find this monotonous but Sivan injects enough variety, often with guest artists, to still make each song feel fresh and unique.
I could review the album song-by-song, but I’ll keep it to the highlights. A few of his songs have a tragic streak such as the poignant conclusion to the Blue Neighborhood trilogy, Talk Me Down. But others such as Bite and Wild, are fun and exhibit the artist’s youth (not to mention his song, Youth).
To me the pinnacle of the album is Heaven featuring Betty Who. The lyrics reflect a personal tension I’ve felt as a man trying to navigate the bounds of my identity as a gay Christian.
“All my time is wasted/Feeling like my heart’s mistaken, oh/So if I’m losing a piece of me/Maybe I don’t want heaven?”
And it is these lyrics and Troye’s insistence throughout the album to use the pronouns that he identifies with that I most appreciate about the album. It would be easy for a young, gay artist to minimize that part of his identity. Going back to my last post, representation is important. Seeing Troye representing a part of my identity that isn’t usually prominent in mainstream media is refreshing. It gives me confidence in myself. I feel more comfortable in my identity as a result.
I think the next post I do should be more “academic” in nature. So I will either attempt to summarize and review a piece of research or present a piece of my own research.

In Case You Didn’t Believe Me

I am obsessed with Beyoncé. I even included it in my Bio. So I decided, let’s talk about Beyoncé.

She’s a pretty popular topic right now, so I thought I would weigh in. (See her most current video.)

Starting off, the video for Formation is a piece of art. Beautifully shot and produced, the outfits and compositions belong in museums. Each moment is captured with an intensity and attention to detail that is unusual to find in mainstream culture and art these days. This video was made for a purpose, obviously. It is historical and current. It is beauty and grit. It is Beyoncé.

And the song itself is also a piece of art. It is much deeper and more complex than the usual pop song, referencing documentaries and other artists alike. Formation lingers for a while with that twanging sound providing the primary driving force. Finally, we arrive at the climax, the queen repeating the mantra “I slay”, a powerful and empowering phrase, pushing the song harder and farther.

She is pulling no punches with this release.

Which leads me to what I appreciate about Beyoncé most. She has a position of great power and influence and she is using it to its advantage. She has wealth and beauty, but she isn’t squandering these resources. She is giving back- to charity, to her community, and to the public at large.

Someday I hope to emulate that tenacity and honesty through my career as a scholar and professor. I never want to sacrifice my morals or beliefs for my job or in my life again.

I will be in a position of some influence and I want to be able to use that to support equal rights and education. And I believe I can do that through both parts of my profession- through teaching and mentorship with students but also through scholarship.

The second area, my scholarship, is what I’m trying to figure out as I’m moving forward in my PhD program. I know of a few scholars who study LGBTQ+ issues in public administration and policy (Greg Lewis at Georgia State being possibly the most prominent) and hope to contribute to this literature someday. Luckily I have resources in professors who are very interested in representation who could be able to support me in these endeavors.

It took me this long to understand how important representation is. Seeing Beyoncé’s video helped me realize that. Listening to Troye Sivan’s album Blue Neighborhood helped me realize that (which a review of might be my next post). Representation is important because even if change at an institutional level is slow (something all political scientists know) it can lead to very immediate, important, internal changes for individuals. Just seeing someone who represents me or someone who represents the ideals I believe in has made me more comfortable in myself and the beliefs I hold dear.

Noise in the Void

As far as this blog goes, I have no misconceptions that I’m not just another voice in the crowd creating noise in the void. However, recently, I’ve learned the power of putting yourself out there and taking risks. It can be really helpful for others. Additionally, it can be a powerful process personally. So that’s what I hope to do with this blog: to be a noise in the void, a slightly louder voice in the crowd, for myself and for others.