A HEAD Note: There are spoilers as far as the movie is concerned, but every spoiler is actually about 77 years old.
First of all, Dunkirk is not just another film, it’s a Christopher Nolan film. So, it automatically comes with a certain baggage of expectations, which I’ve started calling, ‘Nolan Nostalgia’; the heart-wrenching sound effects, kick-ass i-Max visuals, and a moral puzzle as the story.
But, Dunkirk is different than the most other Nolan movies. It’s just some dramatized battle of World War II, right. Right?
Well, as always is with Nolan, the lines are bit fuzzy. Dunkirk is just as much of a war movie, as Deadpool was a superhero movie. Dunkirk lies in this very strange area of honesty as it is based on true events which took place in the summer of 1940 and at the same time filled with fictional characters. It’s not so much different than previous Nolan movies in the sense that, you’re gonna come out asking yourself, ‘I get it. I get it, all. But, what was it really about?’
Let’s get into it.
The movie starts with the above pamphlet being showered on soldiers. Just from this picture, you can see how much enemies are fucking with the soldiers’ minds. Allies had lost the war on the land and are surrounded by enemies from three sides. Their only hope to get out of there alive is by the beach, while they are also being constantly bombarded from the air. The beach could be described as the aftermath of some dystopian disaster where the established order has already been upset, a bit of anarchy is getting introduced and right now is the only home for 400000 soldiers of the losing side.
Hence, everything is chaos, and in this chaos we follow some characters and experience everything they are willing to do to survive but keep failing again and again and again. Hope is not just a four letter word for them.
There’s no single central character. It’s just this subjective point of view of a dozen or so characters shown in three very intrinsically intertwined time-lines of what’s going on the Land, Water, and Air frontier. It might be confusing from time to time, but the movie is made like that on purpose. In his whole career, Nolan has always played with his own interesting take on the world. Story-telling in Memento was in such a way that audience can actually experience what it feels like to be that crazy. In the same way, Dunkirk is supposed to put you in the shoes of a soldier.
And the best part is, Dunkirk does all of that in PG-13. Nolan did not use dead bodies and blood to horrify you with the horrors of the war. Instead, you are being placed inside the drowning Spitfire through a ‘Portable I-Max camera’ with a pilot, in the middle of the ocean. The fear is not of the final death, it is the terror of events that they are witnessing which are leading to eventual death. And if someone just had a near death experience, if someone went through all that terror but somehow survived, how that leads to PTSD, is what’s successfully shown in Dunkirk. This may bring out hard memories for someone suffering from PTSD, but for everyone else it will fill the knowledge gap, a bit more, about PTSD in our minds. We have seen movies about how difficult it can be for a single soldier to come adjust back to life and there were thousands of them here.
Of course, everyone would learn and improve a lot in 20 years of movie making, so has Nolan. Everything he has tried before comes together in Dunkirk where he has shown real life implications of all of the things about morality to reality, which he was talking about in his previous movies.
The theme of the whole movie wants you to answer, ‘What does it mean to be a hero in a world where we don’t actually want war, but it does keep on happening?’ This has been always a topic of great controversy in every civilization and this movie is Nolan’s take on the topic.
Almost all the war stories are romanticized by some handful of heroic tales, like that Tom Hardy’s character, who this time successfully gets to remove his mask a few times. His journey is shown as a spitfire pilot who kept on fighting even with an empty oil tank, not caring about his own life, to save hundreds more. A hero cliché, right?
But, at the same time, a con-teenager who fled on a small boat as a part of the rescue crew, saves only one drowning pilot, and then dies because of the PTSD condition of that same pilot, is also a hero in Dunkirk. A French soldier trying to get away with his nationality where British are given the first priority is also a hero in Dunkirk. A house wife who has reached Dunkirk in her own boat with food for soldiers is also a hero in Dunkirk. This is a movie that reminds when wars happen in real world, the soldiers are just barely trained boys. There is just no pop song available about them. This is not Game of Thrones.
The best part of the tale of Dunkirk is what is still remembered as ‘Dunkirk Spirit’. It is used to motivate a large group to show the same spirit that every ferryman showed, who crossed the 26 mile English Channel, organized nationwide as Project Dynamo by the British President of that time Winston Churchill. All the previous attempts by Navy and Air force had failed badly before the little boats of Dunkirk successfully rescued more than 368000 humans. When everything is said and done, no one is making any sense at all. Just like us, they didn’t know what to make of everything that is happening around them. ‘Everyone is just doing the best they can’, this Dunkirk Spirit is a great silver lining for a new kind of collective heroism. The movie ends with this very strange environment of a victorious defeat. The World War II still went on for five more years.
Finally, to measure how great this movie is, compared to previous Nolan movies, I wanna use this really interesting Pritchard scale, according to which you should measure:
- One, how artfully the objective of the movie has been rendered, to measure the perfectionism.
- Two, how important is that objective, to measure its importance.
All Nolan movies would scale almost same on first one but Dunkirk would rate highest on second one too, thus making this, his best picture till now. Will it also get Nolan an OSCAR, that’s another story altogether. But, what I am sure of is that people are gonna measure all future war movies with Dunkirk instead of Saving Private Ryan, just like any good superhero movie is immediately compared to Batman: The Dark Knight.
Lastly, in Nolan’s own dramatic voice, “This movie is not the one this world deserves, but desperately needed”, because one of the question we need to ask ourselves if we are going to have a future is, “Where in our past did we cause extreme damage to ourselves and to our environment?”
Doesn’t matter which country you’re from and doesn’t matter what was going on in your country at that same time, you should watch this movie just to see what happens to the common people with no agendas when big nations go to war. This movie may not be watched again and again, like other Nolan movies, but it surely should be.
1st FOOT Note: Now, if by any chance you think all this is biased and I am just a Nolan fan-boy, then you’ll be absolutely right that’s because I am.