I walked in the cinema expecting a war movie and, by all means, it was; but it was so much more – I came out of the movie theater with both a history lesson learned and complete audio-visual experience. What Christopher Nolan does with Dunkirk is no short of genius – from the acting to the effects and the storyline it is hard to find any faults with the movie.

Background

The story of Dunkirk is actually a rescue mission called Operation Dynamo. Following the surrender of Belgium in front of the Nazi troops the battleground in France came under siege by the German military. Being blocked from all sides the allies retreated to the beaches of Dunkirk in order to be evacuated. Almost 400.000 soldiers were on the beaches, but excessive fire from the Luftwaffe sinking most British destroyers sent to get the troops caused the British government to use the civilian fleet of fishing and pleasure boats to be sent for the soldiers on the beach – given the fact that they were much smaller it was harder for the Nazi air forces to sink them. The operation was a success, the small boats rescuing more than 330.000 soldiers that were brought back to the UK so they could protect the homeland and be deported to other battlegrounds and would eventually win the war.

Layers

The movie is comprised of multiple time layers that come together at the end – the ability to see the same scene from different perspectives offers an unique viewing experience and gives quite a bit of food for thought. While watching the movie you are also solving a puzzle in your head trying to put all the pieces together. This technique gives the impression of a very well thought out script and storyline and in terms of movie watching experience it is quite rewarding. Although a small group of people might find it a bit confusing it does not distract heavily from the whole experience of the movie and if you pay enough attention the story will make perfect sense throughout the entire film.

Motives, faces and dialogue

Christopher Nolan has mentioned in multiple interviews that the story on Dunkirk is something that was always a part of British history – growing up the story of fisherman and civilians taking their boats and going to a war zone to rescue their fellow countrymen was unavoidable. However, he thought that the story has never been properly told to the world and that had given him the idea on writing the script and directing the movie.

One fact that surprises is, although he uses some familiar faces from his earlier movies, most of the cast is young and not very well known in the movie world. The reason is that the story Nolan wanted to tell is about young people, as wars are usually fought by young men send to war by their seniors, that are of the proper age – no point in hiring 30 something actors that play the role of 18 year-olds, it doesn’t feel authentic. The decision was successful as it offers a bit of ambiguity – movie watchers expect that movie stars not to be killed off early on, but not the same can be expected when there is a cast that is unknown. It also offers a perspective of compassion beyond the usual one in war movies – we wanted them to live and we root for them with much more passion than usual. There is also no central character, and while the stories are grouped around a set of characters there is no lead and each story is equally important.

The movie uses less dialogue as it relies mostly on visual storytelling. The intense ground, water and air scenes don’t need so much dialogue as they offer plenty of context themselves. The dialogues is short and on point, much how a war movie should be – there is no time to philosophize about life and death when the line between them is so thin and the enemy is right around the corner.

The movie has a PG 13 rating as it lacks all the blood and gore that we have become so used to in depictions of war and battles – this is due to the fact that Dunkirk, apart from offering an unique visual art experience, also wants to be a history lesson and the opportunity that teenagers can see a small page of history right before their eyes is truly worth it – the movie is so mesmerizing that you do not even notice it anyway.

Drowning man

While watching I couldn’t help myself but make certain parallels with 9/11 – the idea of people trapped in a place of hell and waiting to be rescued, doing everything in their power to survive. At a certain point a small scene of a soldiers going directly into the waves, surrendering his fate and his story, gave me chills and could not think about anything other than the fact that it resembled the photo of falling man so well.

Keep calm and carry on

Key scenes and actors give the movie a true British feel – from the old sailor, to the seasoned admiral and the maverick fighter pilot – the idea that a job must be done and must be done properly. The valiance of certain individuals that put their home and family above all else and give into the chaos of war as a sense of duty. Of course, the fact that Christopher Nolan both wrote and directed the movie and given his freakish love of details gives the movie a true sense of authenticity and the campaign of maintaining hope and order in the public that was become emblematic of the British is present everywhere, but it does not take away from the horrors of war – a beautiful contrast.

Conclusion

As I said before, the movie is an experience. Everything in it, be it the acting, effects, sounds, photography or the dialogue, gives the film an overwhelming power over its viewer – it feels like looking through a magnifying glass at the battle, you feel that you are there and sense the immensity of it all. The feature film will be taught in schools as both an illustration of a historic even but also as an example of filmmaking, ranking within the same heavyweights as Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan or Apocalypse Now.

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