Darkest Hour (2017)

I have started sharing movie reviews (of films not related to classic literature) on my personal blog. Here’s the latest one, on Darkest Hour (2017).

Gifted w/ Thought

Darkest Hour follows the early days of Winston Churchill’s appointment as prime minister, following after Neville Chamberlain’s resignation in 1940. Britain’s position on the continent is fragile and a German invasion seems imminent when Churchill takes office. Eccentric and often drunk, he must maintain a delicate balance in the political parties, as well as gain the support of King George VI, while making decisions that mean life or death for the common man and Britain as a whole.

Though the beginning was a bit awkward, overall I really enjoyed this film. The pace and script remind me of a play; instead of giving us a sweeping overview, it simply focuses on Churchill (vividly portrayed by Gary Oldman), his wife Clementine, and his secretary Elizabeth (Lily James, who played Rose in Downton Abbey), as well as the various political figures in Churchill’s circle. His speeches play a large role in…

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The Memory Police (1994 / 2019)

The unnamed heroine lives on an island where things disappear. One day, you just wake up and realize something is missing—or rather, removed entirely by the Memory Police. This secret police organization arbitrarily decides what memories are illegal, then they round up everything and anyone who might prevent the memory from dying out. The heroine, a writer, begins to fear for the safety of her editor R, who has an unusually good memory and stubborn mental resistance. Can she manage to hide him, all the while losing her own memories of what is real?

This book was written in 1994 by Yōko Ogawa and translated to English for the first time last year. It was a 2019 finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, and this year it’s on the shortlist for the Booker International Prize. I was intrigued by the concept and was really hoping to love the novel.

I did enjoy the first half or so of the book. It is written in a rather simplistic, quaint style, which is easy to read and descriptive without being overbearing. The main character lives a simple life, writing her book, consulting her editor R, and visiting her elderly friend who lives on an old boat. “Cozy” is the word I’d use… it starts out very sweet and cozy, in spite of the unfortunate disappearances—birds, roses, and hats, for starters. There is definitely an atmosphere of Nazi Germany or modern-day North Korea, with the activities of the Memory Police, but this begins on the periphery of the narrator’s experiences, and so she is able to carry on her simple life for a while without any big changes.

Interestingly, it’s mentioned that her mother had been taken away by the Police, but it doesn’t seem to have caused the narrator any trauma. I had to assume she was, to some degree, desensitized by the environment she grew up in. This resignation doesn’t quite fit the rest of the book, though (more on that in a moment).

Everything started to fall apart for me around the 60% mark. Minor spoilers ahead…

The professional relationship between the narrator and R eventually escalates into an all-out affair. R, as it is, is married with a pregnant wife, but the narrator contrives to hide R in her own house, purportedly for his protection. I was willing to accept the narrator had a crush on R—that’s plausible enough—but not only did she walk right into the lions’ den on this one, she built the lions’ den. And that made me really uncomfortable. I thought it was disgusting of her to separate a husband from his wife like that, and not to let R off the hook, he was pretty horrid, too.

Not only that, the narrator effectively blames the Memory Police for her desperate behavior and relationship with R. I’m again struggling to understand how these recent experiences are more traumatic than her mother’s abduction. Just not buying it.

The other thing that I loathed about this novel was the narrator’s book, a work in progress. Now, one of my biggest pet peeves is “meta” stories: books about books, or movies about movie stars, etc. Can hardly stand them. However, what really baked my biscuits was how AWFUL the narrator’s book was. It was literally about a student-teacher relationship turned into sexual slavery, in increasingly elaborate detail.

From that point, I really had trouble reading the book and taking it seriously. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if I were not so far along in it (and wanting to stay on track with my Goodreads challenge). I despised the “heroine,” I despised her book, and I really couldn’t find any other reason to care.

I realize this is a pretty strong opinion; I usually try to find the silver lining in books. But the ambiguous ending did nothing to change my mind, and I was left feeling (quite honestly) bitter and cold towards the characters. Oh well… I am still looking for the great dystopian novel.

What I'm Reading (and More): Quarantine Edition

Well, folks…we’re all hunkered down, now officially. I hope everyone is staying well. It’s also been a while since I did one of these posts, so it seemed like a good time. Feel free to share your own updates in the comments!

Reading

Silence

Finally read Silence by Shūsaku Endō! It is not a book one enjoys, but I did appreciate the challenge of deciphering the message (or losing my voice attempting to). You can watch the video review here.

TL;DR version: The book is gut-wrenching and, as I put it to another reader, “psychologically horrifying.” The writing style is masterful, from the use of silence as a motif to the mix of tenses/perspectives which create distance between the reader and the protagonist. I feel the surface message is unbiblical, but I also believe there is a second, more nuanced way to read it, where rather than view it strictly from Rodrigues’s eyes, you view the sequence of events holistically and see his flawed thinking. This gives the novel a level of depth that makes it worthwhile, especially for Christians.

What next?

I ought to read Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, because I have it on ebook from the library for eight days. However, Silence was so emotionally draining, I’m thinking I’ll take a break from fiction. I’ll probably read one of my exploration nonfiction books, like The Lost City of Z.

Watching

Gaslight

The other day I watched Gaslight (1944) with my family. This is an Ingrid Bergman film, about a young woman who marries a handsome stranger and bad things happen (ya don’t say?).

It is a verrryyy slow film. I couldn’t help wishing Alfred Hitchcock had directed it. On the other hand, it has a level of artistic restraint that I did appreciate and which Hitchcock never seems to be able to leverage. So, overall, it was an ok film. Charles Boyer’s character made me want to punch the screen, but Ingrid excels in this genre and made me stick it out. Also on the plus side, the plot reminded me of Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Fortunately (?), Gaslight is not nearly as bloodcurdling as that short story.

Listening

I started my personal blog back up, so have been journalling there about the shutdown, plus music recommendations and funny videos.

I’ll share this song now—“Vancouver Waves” by August and After, a calming song for times like this.

Listen on YouTube

Polar Exploration Books: Ernest Shackleton and Valerian Albanov

Taking a look at my small collection of polar exploration classics, mostly focused on Shackleton’s expeditions. Filming this, I realized I really need to read Amundsen and Nansen and then do a sequel.

Related:
Listen to Shackleton talk about his first trip to Antarctica and climbing Mt. Erebus: https://youtu.be/OUTHZ_9tacM?t=56
South by Ernest Shackleton – Book review: https://classicsconsidered.com/2012/0…