“Dunkirk” is a dramatic retelling of the infamous 1940 Dunkirk Evacuation, where hundreds of thousands of British, French, Belgian, and Canadian forces were surrounded by the German Army and forced to retreat in one of the most difficult and complicated evacuations of the Second Great War. With such a dark history behind it, how could “Dunkirk” hope to capture the “Miracle of Dunkirk” on the big screen?
“Dunkirk” follows a nonlinear narrative with the story being told from three different threads titled: The Mole, The Sea, and The Air. The Mole follows a young British soldier and his companion as they strive to survive while desperately trying to find a way off the beaches of Dunkirk. The Sea focuses on a civilian fishing boat where a father, son, and their young helper, ship out to provide aid in the evacuation. The Air follows a trio of air pilots sent to provide air support to the troops at Dunkirk during the evacuation.
With three different stories, one might think that all three are occurring at the same time, and the film just cuts back and forth, but you’re half wrong. The Mole part of the film takes place over the course of a week, the Sea story takes over the length of a day, and the Air takes only an hour. Now, don’t think that this makes the narrative jumbled or confusing. Far from it, in fact, it’s brilliant!
Each story follows the characters as they overcome obstacles and tense life or death situations: The soldiers on the beach trying to survive as their rescue boats are sunk, and enemy planes rain bombs down upon them; The father and son crew on the small fishing boat as they attempt to cross the ocean while trying to aid soldiers from sunken ships; The pilots in the air as they try to make it to Dunkirk with limited fuel while trying to protect the boats in the water from enemy aircraft and bombers.
There are no main characters. No big-name character(s) with a complicated back story to follow. No unbeatable hero who comes in to rally the men, take on the enemy, and save the day. And that works for the narrative. No one feels more important than the other. Even if you don’t know their names, you feel for these characters, and want them to succeed; To get out alive and safe.
The action and scenes all connect and flow so perfectly that you’ll almost forget that they’re happening at different time periods. However, this is not an action film. The overall tone of the movie is set right from the opening scene. This is not a war film about fighting back or winning a battle. It’s about dread, about being cornered by an unseen enemy and surviving. In fact, while we, the audience, are aware who they’re fighting, the film never shows the enemies face. I don’t think the word
“Nazi” is ever uttered. “Enemy” and “Opposition” are their only titles. This only adds to the tone of the film, however.
In fact, the whole movie has an almost horror ambiance to it, with the faceless enemy and the water acting as the film’s monsters. Our characters are being hunted by uncontrollable and powerful forces. They have no face, they’re just an unseen superpower that’s better armed and better prepared, and are hunting the soldiers of Dunkirk, and want to stop them from escaping.
The tremendous direction “Dunkirk” took is thanks to its creator, a man who knows how to edit and pace a film. The movie has the one and only Christopher Nolan operating as producer, writer, and director. The filmmaker is known for his work on the Dark Knight Trilogy, and other award winning films like “Inception.” The film’s music is also another tremendous success. Comprised by the great Hans Zimmer, a composer who has worked on a number of projects, including Christopher Nolan’s filmography (The Dark Knight Trilogy, “Inception,” “Interstellar,” etc.).
The music perfectly captures the mood and theme of the movie. Despair, dread, helplessness, and the rising tension whenever a bullet is fired, an explosion occurs, or when characters are trapped beneath the water. That’s the movie if you want to put it in a nutshell. Dread. You feel for these people, and what you feel is dread and despair. That any moment could be their last.
“Dunkirk” is rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language. Even with the PG-13 rating, however, I can’t recommend this for younger viewers. This film is structured through pacing and build up, along with long moments without dialogue. Not only that, but some scenes will also be a bit graphic for them to watch. Even though there’s little blood in this film, that doesn’t mean there’s little death either. I credit the filmmakers once again for showing restraint and not going in for the R rating and just throwing gore in. However, there are enough scenes of soldiers being blown up by bombs along with scenes of them drowning that will be too much for the weak of heart or younger viewers to handle.
If you can stomach all that, however, then this film is a must see for anyone looking for a war movie that breaks from the drudgery of previous war films. A film that tells a compelling true story of despair and courage with a nonlinear narrative. The final score for Christopher Nolan’s“Dunkirk”is a 9 out of 10.
Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.