30 July 2017


I think I've read only one negative review of Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk. After seeing it for myself, I wonder if that reviewer had seen the same movie. In any event, let me add to the chorus of of raves. Dunkirk tells three intersecting stories of the greatest military evacuation in history. But those three stories take place over three spans of time (an hour, a day, and a week) and three locations (land, water, and the air) so pay attention to the on-screen cues at the outset.

Nolan's Dunkirk avoids explaining what's going on There are no voice-overs, diaries, letters, or inside-the-war-room cut-aways. There aren't any backstories for any of the characters. Nolan thus (re)creates the harrowing experiences of the film's characters. There's enough heroism and cowardice, bravery and fear, triumph and failure to go around but it's seen from a quotidian and human point of view, without the godlike omniscience that can characterize war films.

And without much blood. To be sure, there's plenty of death but it's not of the close-up, in-your-face-sort. Instead, it's death (and the happenstance of survival) from the perspective of the numbed multitudes on the beaches, the focused attitude of a father and son on their small boat, and the high-stress cockpits of two RAF Spitfires. Although we know the ultimate outcome of this week in 1940, Dunkirk's direction and musical score let viewers experience the utter uncertainty of its individual participants.

And without any triumphant or soaring music. The unsettling score was never intrusive but nonetheless contributed to the viewer's sense of uncertainty, tension, and incompleteness. Read about it here.

In short, I highly recommend Dunkirk.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on, Scott. As an historian, I was particularly impressed, not only with the storytelling, but the accuracy. It was very well-researched, and recognized no need to exaggerate what is a powerful story (history beats fiction any day in my book). Only one extraordinarily slight inaccuracy: the amount of ammunition carried by a Spitfire. The earlier models could actually fire for a total of about 20 seconds, a bit less for later versions. Very short bursts were the standard, which made for very short dogfights and careful shot selection. The movie suggested a longer air to air combat time, but that is a very slight critique and I hesitate to even mention it. It is not a blemish on a brilliant film.