Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright’s latest film from a script by Anthony McCarten, is a distressing look at the sorts of things humanity wouldn’t need if we were angels: politicians and war.
The film follows the ascendancy of Winston Churchill (portrayed by Gary Oldman of Dark Knight’s Commissioner Jim “Stop Pointing That Gun at my Family” Gordon fame) to Prime Minister and his proceeding battle with Parliament and himself over whether or not to go to war with Nazi Germany. It’s a movie hugely concerned with war that spends a vast majority of its time behind tables and podiums or in front of microphones and audiences. We’re shown just enough warfare to remember that the decisions made by these very human, very imperfect powers are likely to result in massive bloodshed. The choice then becomes, do you resign yourself definitively to war, do you resign a country’s youth to death and maiming on the battlefield, or do you gamble and sue for peace, even then uncertain of what your standing will ultimately become?
Darkest Hour is a testament to the vileness of war. Not the grit, or the violence and torture and flying limbs. The general unpleasantness, the fact that if you are at war, no matter the side, you’ve lost something dear. War isn’t treated lightly or romanticized here. It isn’t a profound calling, or a matter of honor, or a proving ground. It’s this horrible thing that some know in their bones is coming no matter what, and others hope against hope can be staved off by placating a maniac.
The story of Darkest Hour then, in which the victory pursued is one of convincing Britain to go to war, to engage in this terrible thing, is one of coming to terms with that terror, with the unfairness of it all and the underlying human failure of it all, of looking at impending violence, seeing it for what it is and moving forward accordingly.
It’s a philosophically distressing movie to watch, particularly in a time in which we’re forced to continually make light of idiots blowing the world to smithereens over a tweet, but Darkest Hour lends a perspective to war that we don’t often get in cinema, one worth engaging with.