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The Darkest Hour

Director: Chris Gorak
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella

(US DVD: 10 Apr 2012)

The Darkest Hour is an alien invasion flick that closely follows the steps of Skyline, Battle Los Angeles, Vanishing on 7th Street, War of the Worlds, and Independence day. The basic storyline and narrative elements of these films is practically the same. That is, a forceful occupation of our planet by evil creatures, a few resourceful heroes fighting against all odds a technologically superior army, spectacular scenes of mayhem and destruction, and an explicit militaristic ideology. Nonetheless, what makes The Darkest Hour remarkable is its unambiguous presentation of American capitalistic culture as an overwhelming invading force.


As The Darkest Hour begins, we are introduced to Sean (Emile Hisch) and Ben (Max Minghella), who travel to Russia looking for investment dollars to support the development of their social network software that they recently invented. As Sean and Ben travel from the airport to their hotel, the taxi drives by a McDonald’s restaurant, a Starbucks store, and other economic symbols of American culture. At this early point in the film, the extraterrestrials still have not shown up in the screen, but we already see that Moscow has been invaded by an alien culture.


Indeed, for those of us who lived through the Cold War years, it’s really surprising to see a McDonald’s restaurant right across Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square. Forget about alien technology, the fact that American culture has managed to penetrate so deeply and so successfully the Russian nation is truly astonishing. Clearly, this invasion is cultural rather than military, but it has a non-trivial economic component. Specifically, one way or another, American capitalism is nourishing from Russian resources. This piercing exploitation of national assets becomes an important insinuation as the film reveals that the extraterrestrial invaders have a similar agenda.


The political dynamics of The Darkest Hour are further complicated as the film progresses. Upon their arrival to their business meeting, Sean and Ben are shocked to find out that their colleague, Skyler (Joel
Kinnaman), has shamelessly stolen their invention. Furthermore, Skyler has managed to sell the plagiarized product to the Russian investors, who are more than eager to make a quick buck. When confronted with his treachery, Skyler excuses himself by invoking the Darwinian rhetoric of survival of the fittest, explaining that the capitalistic world is a vicious place for those ill-prepared.


Once again, the harsh and unforgiving character of American capitalism looks forward at the violent, deceptive, and merciless tactics employed by the extraterrestrials in their quest for world dominance. Indeed, arriving at Earth, appearing as as ethereal clouds of mesmerizing bright light, the aliens proceed to disintegrate everything and everyone that comes in their way. 


After annihilating most of the world population in a matter of days, these fearsome creatures appear to be invincible and invulnerable. As speculated by the renowned Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently
advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.  And indeed, the weapons and defense systems of the aliens seem utterly powerful and far beyond our current technological capabilities. Similar to most alien invasion flicks, The Darkest Hour presents what by all means should be a despondently lost battle before it even begins.


Nonetheless, The Darkest Hour subscribes to the cheered fantasy of the young white American hero who can fight superior enemies by simply relying on honor and western values. While using this clichéd cinematic convention is far from original, its geographical setting makes the narrative problematic. Indeed, let us recall that the Russians were able to fight and defeat powerful invaders such as Napoleon and Hitler. Where the rest of the world failed, the Russians emerged victorious. If in doubt, simply recall the legendary sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad during World War II. 


With this contextual background, it’s impossible to obviate the naive imperialistic ideology of The Darkest Hour. Indeed, Sean not only discovers the way to defeat the aliens, but he also indoctrinates the Russians on the values of freedom and loyalty. As Sean and his friends attempt to escape to a submarine anchored in the Volga River, he convinces a group of Russian fighters to escort them to the rendezvous point. According to Sean, the meaning of freedom is to be able to regroup to fight another day. And when a girl befriended by Sean gets lost in the crumbled city, he convinces the captain of the submarine not to sail. This time, Sean believes that loyalty means that you have to wait for your fellow buddies. Incredibly, the tough Russians fall for Sean’s ingenuous and childlike rhetoric.


Sean’s feeble, guileless and precarious ideology not only reinforces the sub-textual cultural invasion of Russia by American capitalism. It is also a self-serving creed that Sean exploits to his own benefit. Clearly, Sean’s character arc is deeply influenced by its initial confrontation with Skyler and the lesson he received on economic Darwinism. Because of these ideological intricacies, it becomes challenging to determine the difference between the extraterrestrial aliens and the American capitalistic culture once the film reaches its optimistic finalé.


While The Darkest Hour is far from being an original film, it remains an intriguing entry in the alien invasion genre. For those inclined to sit through a visually-stunning flick with a heavy ideological baggage, The Darkest Hour is currently available on a pristine blu-ray presentation. The extra features include some deleted and extended scenes, an audio commentary, a short documentary on the making of the film, and short film. Truth be told, these bonus features do not add much to the presentation of a film that probably never will become a beloved classic of the science fiction genre.

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Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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