How do you maintain normal in the face of something that defies all attempts to normalize it?
It’s a question that many of us are grappling with right now, but it’s a question that some people have faced before. For example, how do you pick up and carry on during wartime? There is so much art that grapples with the impact of WWII on the daily lives of the people at home that I started to feel at a certain point in my life like I’d actually lived through it myself. That’s what happens when nostalgia is so pervasive. It’s like ‘60s nostalgia. I wasn’t born when Woodstock happened, but I swear to god there was a point in the late ‘80s when I felt like I had been there by sheer osmosis.
John Boorman is one of the many filmmakers who decided to try to capture something of that experience on film, and I find myself surprised anew by today’s Quarantine Pick O’the Day, 1987’s Hope and Glory, every time I watch it. Boorman’s a talented guy, but also a complete madman. Much of his filmography is what I would politely describe as “totally pants-shittingly crazy,” which is great. I certainly enjoy that. But Hope and Glory is something else entirely, a movie that is surprisingly unsentimental about an unconventional childhood.
I love that Boorman’s film about growing up in London during the Blitz is funny. It gives me hope. You think that your kids are going to take the worst of this, but I suspect they are actually stronger than we are. Part of what shelters children is a lack of understanding of the full breadth of what we’re facing, but part of it is that children already understand that they have no control at all over their life. Adults operate under the illusion that we’re in charge of our fate, but that’s an illusion, and a crisis on the level of a world war or a pandemic can very quickly point out to you how tenuous that control really is. Children frequently just have to accept the way the world is, and Bill (Sebastian Rice-Edwards) is forced to cope with a pretty harrowing world.
Boorman’s genius here is the way the film feels like it’s all from Bill’s emotional point of view. There’s an innocence to the film that is beautifully etched, captured most vividly in his memory of the “fireworks” over London. There are terrific performances all around, but this is a great example of an ensemble film where everyone vanishes into the reality of the world. It’s a great example of how to layer in details to create a completely persuasive reality. It feels like you step into John Boorman’s memory, but the honest and unvarnished version, not the way we normally see childhood portrayed.
Today’s primary discussion question is this: what are your favorite movies about childhood, and what is it that the film gets right for you?
As always, these Saturday Free-For-Alls are open to everyone to comment, whether you’re a subscriber or not. And you don’t just have to talk about Hope and Glory. Anything goes as long as you treat each other well. Mainly, I just hope you’re all staying safe and sane.
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Image courtesy SPHE
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