Movie: The Darkest Hour
Distributor: 20th century Fox
Release Date: January 19
Teen dramas are a dime a dozen – well, more accurately, $400 million a dozen – and the plot elements are often as predictable as the ruggedly handsome boy and the cool, courageous girl. But every now and then middle of the road films like The Darkest Hour have unusually helpful things to say.
The Darkest Hour is a science-fiction drama set in present-day Moscow. Four American teens have chosen it at their spring-break destination. Sean and Ben are in town to conclude a business deal with potential Russian backers for their online social network service. When they discover their Swedish friend Skyler has hijacked their concept they retreat to a bar to drown their sorrows. There they meet Natalie and Anne, two friends looking for a holiday with a difference. Enter the difference: beautiful swirling lights that descend from the sky turn out to be near-invisible aliens bent on invasion. As Moscow descends into chaos, the four have to fight their way through the city to rendezvous with a nuclear sub that will carry survivors to freedom.
The Darkest Hour’s plot was old when Patrick Swayze picked up a AK-47 as a teen soldier in Red Dawn, though in 1984 it was the Russians dropping from the skies over mid-western America. However the combination of Soviet-era architecture and stylish strip malls that make up modern Moscow helps retain the interest. Free-thinking entrepreneur Sean is also played by Emile Hirsch who gave a stirring performance as top student and athlete who abandons his possessions and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness in Into The Wild. Hirsch has less to work with here and a lot more running to do, but he’s the mainstay of a plot that still poses some interesting questions.
Skyler, their underhanded partner, is brazen about his ability fight like a wolf in the business world. But when the aliens attack he discovers a great big yellow streak down his back. Shaking at the bottom of a locked cellar, he tells the contemptuous teens:
“I think we all want to be brave in our own minds but you ready don’t know who you are until something happens.”
A fact that may not have dawned on many teens is that moral muscles have to be regularly flexed if they’re to retain any strength when they’re needed most. Those who practice choosing right from wrong will have the ability to make the bigger calls when the pressure is on. Those who constantly let the ‘little things’ slide – lies, theft, a lack of responsibility – will discover they unknowingly opened a chasm between their self-perception and the person they really are. And The Darkest Hour makes it clear people will not always have the opportunity to close that gap when they want to.
Hollywood generally seems to suggest that even in the midst of the most frantic fire-fights, key characters will always have time for a final monologue. In an unusual move for teen films, The Darkest Hour has two characters saying their farewells while they’re far from harm:
Sean: “I’m thinking we should say goodbye.”
Sean: “I never got to say it to Ben.”
Teens could do well to hear that Death doesn’t enter according to the scripts we write for ourselves. In a world where people can unexpectedly choke on fast food, we would do well to consider our unfinished business. Or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it:
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.