Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Dunkirk

 

I just returned from watching Dunkirk with my eldest. I refrained from reading any reviews of it in advance, just so I could form my own opinion. Spoilers ahead, so be warned.

Actual photo of the beach at Dunkirk

The film is somewhat disorienting to watch. You are following 4 different stories, set at different paces, as they all race towards their intersection. The stories all begin at the start of the film, but one is set over a blurred week of attempted escapes, one picks up in the middle of the first, one a day before, and one begins a mere hour before the climax (the film informs you of this time difference in captions – 1 week, 1 day, 1 hour). The stories all intersect at last in the arrival of the first small craft from the UK at Dunkirk, and mostly run contiguous until the end.

The dialog is spartan. Aside from the few captions at the beginning, there is little in the way of exposition. The first story follows the lone survivor of a British patrol in Dunkirk who, having lost his entire unit (perhaps one of the doomed units who held the perimeter against the German advance), tries to find a way, any way, onto one of the transports. He is not a noble figure, perhaps he is even a coward. His repeated and often dishonest attempts to line-jump and board a transport spell doom at every turn until very near the end – one wonders if Nolan was punishing him from above, serving him up (or perhaps a companion of his) as a Jonah figure to every escape attempt.

The second story follows the admiral (played by Kenneth Branagh) who comes ashore to direct operations, and who stayed with the soldiers until the very end. What little exposition there is comes through his conversations with a BEF colonel.

The third story is of the owner of a small pleasure craft, his son, and friend of his son’s, who answer the call to sail to Dunkirk and assist. The film shows the very real dangers these small craft faced as they neared the war zone. The father, likely a WWI veteran, knows the stakes involved as he faces the dangers ahead.

The final storyline centers on an RAF squadron sent to protect the shipping. The pilots encounter several Luftwaffe patrols and bomber escorts, and the film does quite well in showing the very uncertain and chaotic nature of aerial combat. Theirs is the one story told (with breaks to the other story lines) essentially in real time as we near the climax. The dogfights are a confusion of missed shots, uncertain hits, and battles with their own equipment as they attempt to protect and save the troop laden ships below.

This is an exhausting movie to watch, and while it certainly ends with some of the characters you’ve been following actually making it back, with them rolling into a sunny English train station to cheers and adulation, after nearly 2 hours of hours of tension, explosions, drownings, near drownings, torpedoings, dive bombings, dog fights, betrayals, and cold cold water, the return home is disorienting and jarring. I rather think director Christopher Nolan did this deliberately. Having read accounts by evacuees, including the war memoirs of General Alanbrooke, the British General who led the BEF evacuation, they often describe the sheer mental assault of trying to survive in that doomed collapsing pocket, and the utter disorientation upon their return home. Over there was death closing in on all sides, at home were sunny skies and a land not yet ravaged by bombings and assault. One walks out of the theater in a similar, if of course much smaller daze. The relief at surviving is palpable, bittersweet, and hollow. The film does end with a soldier reading Churchill’s evacuation speech, but the end is not hopeful. You have survived, and that is about all you can say of the matter. This is no victory, there is no triumph, only survival. And not all the survivors were heroic.

There are 39 comments.

  1. AUMom Member

    I also watched this movie tonight, in IMAX.

    As we walked out of the theatre, AUSon said, “This was a very personal movie.” Indeed it was. The movie centered on those who made Dunkirk the story passed down through the three generations. It was about the men who stood on the beaches in hopes of a rescue, all the while being fish in a barrel for the Luftwaffe. It was about the gallant folks who took their boats across the channel. The one the movie followed had lost one son already as a Hurricane pilot. The few pilots, who could be spared, fought the Luftwaffe, low fuel, and the knowledge they were probably not going to be the ones to make it back.

    The officers on the beach knew their men were doomed. They had the capability to rescue 10% of those waiting. 10%.

    It’s we, the people. It is the soldier on the beach. It’s the man who takes his son to rescue others so more fathers don’t have the grief he has. It is the pilot who keeps going when he knows he doesn’t have enough fuel to get home. It is us. We can’t depend on the government to protect us. We can’t depend on DC to do rescue the wounded. We sure can’t expect our enemies to honor the rules of engagement.

    Dunkirk is not a movie to provide all the historical background. It is a movie to inspire the best in us and in our neighbors.

    • #1
    • July 24, 2017, at 7:38 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  2. profdlp Inactive

    I saw this last night. As noted in the review, this movie doesn’t depend on a lot of dialogue to advance the plot, but rather by the amazing visual spectacle. I plan to go back again to see if I can figure out how the director pulled it off. It is an amazing movie and would benefit from being seen on the big screen. (IMAX for me, as well.) Go see it.

    • #2
    • July 24, 2017, at 7:51 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Nanda "Chaps" Panjan… Coolidge

    I’m wary of this generation’s attempt to privatize/insulate/personalize historical events – especially those concerning war. I learned more about Dunkirk from reading Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose” and watching the 1971 Richard Harris/Jenny Agutter made-for-TV movie than Mr. Nolan may want anyone to know. I’m sure it’s visually stunning and emotionally engaging; but is it true?

    • #3
    • July 24, 2017, at 8:53 PM PST
    • 1 like
  4. AUMom Member

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    I’m wary of this generation’s attempt to privatize/insulate/personalize historical events – especially those concerning war. I learned more about Dunkirk from reading Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose” and watching the 1971 Richard Harris/Jenny Agutter made-for-TV movie than Mr. Nolan may want anyone to know. I’m sure it’s visually stunning and emotionally engaging; but is it true?

    Nanda, I think it is. It wasn’t deconstructed as much as laser focused. Was everyone brave? No but there was enough out and out bravery to inspire me and my son to be willing to stand on the beach, on the landing grounds, on the streets, the hills, and the fields. This movie did not glamorize war. It honored the folks who fight it and the sacrifices their countrymen make.

    • #4
    • July 24, 2017, at 8:58 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. AUMom Member

    Just as Christopher Nolan showed unmitigated chaos and hate as the evil it is in The Dark Knight, he showed courage in spite of fear, doing in spite of unlikely if not impossible odds, and grace in spite of grief as powerfully as I’ve seen it done.

    • #5
    • July 24, 2017, at 9:01 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Michael C. Lukehart Thatcher

    I liked the movie.

    I suspect that many of the critics are having a hard time with a movie that presupposes a viewer, an audience, with a certain, accurate store of historical knowledge. The film is borderline incoherent to a historical illiterate; to a viewer with a good grasp of the history of the moment, it is brilliant and evocative. And daring.

    • #6
    • July 24, 2017, at 9:25 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  7. Eustace C. Scrubb Member

    Andrew Klavan complained in his podcast today that the film didn’t show enough personal relationships. I think the heartrending story of Mark Rylance and his boys on the boat proves that opinion flat out wrong. A film well worth seeing. I think Nolan is the only filmmaker capable these days of getting a big budget to make a film for grownups.

    • #7
    • July 24, 2017, at 10:02 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Eustace C. Scrubb (View Comment):
    Andrew Klavan complained in his podcast today that the film didn’t show enough personal relationships. I think the heartrending story of Mark Rylance and his boys on the boat proves that opinion flat out wrong. A film well worth seeing. I think Nolan is the only filmmaker capable these days of getting a big budget to make a film for grownups.

    And Nolan wasn’t aiming to tell a personal story, the different narratives are there to show how so very many different lives intersected, how very many lives were lost in pulling off that rescue. Nolan aimed big here, and succeeded. Not every film needs to get intimate in a satisfying story way.

    • #8
    • July 24, 2017, at 10:25 PM PST
    • 1 like
  9. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    I’m wary of this generation’s attempt to privatize/insulate/personalize historical events – especially those concerning war. I learned more about Dunkirk from reading Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose” and watching the 1971 Richard Harris/Jenny Agutter made-for-TV movie than Mr. Nolan may want anyone to know. I’m sure it’s visually stunning and emotionally engaging; but is it true?

    His goal is to put you there with the soldiers, and to feel the sheer terror of the coming defensive collapse and the panicked desire to get away. In that he very much hits the mark.

    • #9
    • July 24, 2017, at 10:27 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Gary Robbins Reagan

    A great film. Don’t miss it.

    • #10
    • July 24, 2017, at 11:13 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. LC Member
    LC

    I’ve seen a lot of war movies and they’re usually the ones I rewatch the most. I think this might be the best shot one I’ve seen. So many of those scenes were just incredible to watch.

    • #11
    • July 25, 2017, at 12:04 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Titus Techera Contributor

    Well done, Skip! I’m looking to publish some thoughts on the movie myself. One of my essays starts by saying, all Americans should take their teenaged kids to see it! Your imprimatur matters–it’s essential to the deep things going on in the story that the audience experience things as they were, rather than take victory for granted. There’s no arrogance of hindsight in the story, which is amazing. (Admittedly, this is helped along some by the now-general ignorance about even WWII, but especially Dunkirk!)

    You did better than me to notice that the kid we follow most of the time is not admirable. But the story surely points out, the circumstances excused him. You’re also right to point out that there is a lot of criticism of the kind of line-skipping he does–he thinks, at some level, he’s gotta take his fate in his hands, but he can’t. Contrast him with the pilot & admiral who take their fates in their hands in obeying their orders–to the hilt. I hadn’t thought about that, but it dovetails nicely with my character analysis! Thanks!

    When my stuff gets published, I’ll share it, along with some thoughts for debate here on Ricochet. I think this is something conservatives should take seriously, however hard that may be. It’s important to learn from this movie & to imitate it.

    P.S. Laconic, not Spartan!

    • #12
    • July 25, 2017, at 12:24 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    As someone who knows a fair bit about the battle I can say its fairly accurate.

    Though one quibble. Branaghs character is a Commander not an admiral. I could figure out who he is by referencing my books but I got to go.

    • #13
    • July 25, 2017, at 4:04 AM PST
    • 1 like
  14. Skyler Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    But the story surely points out, the circumstances excused him.

    No they don’t. “Circumstances” never excuse immoral behavior.

    • #14
    • July 25, 2017, at 7:56 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  15. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    As someone who knows a fair bit about the battle I can say its fairly accurate.

    Though one quibble. Branaghs character is a Commander not an admiral. I could figure out who he is by referencing my books but I got to go.

    Yes. I wrote this within minutes of getting home from the film, before looking up who the actual people were as they were played.

    • #15
    • July 25, 2017, at 7:57 AM PST
    • Like
  16. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    But the story surely points out, the circumstances excused him.

    No they don’t. “Circumstances” never excuse immoral behavior.

    I would not have used “excused” myself. I would have said instead that we understood his motivations while being abhorred by his attempts. I think this is why Nolan treats him and his French companion has Jonahs on each of their doomed escape attempts, and why there is the judgement of the blind man on the docks at the end.

    • #16
    • July 25, 2017, at 7:59 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  17. Skyler Coolidge

    AUMom (View Comment):
    Dunkirk is not a movie to provide all the historical background. It is a movie to inspire the best in us and in our neighbors.

    Wow. This movie does the exact opposite. It tells us that we are helpless and nothing can be done about it. It tells us that no one is heroic (which was certainly not true of that battle), that the expected behavior is to be a shirker, using a wounded man as a prop to stow away on a hospital ship. It tells us that the expected behavior is to run your fighter plane out of fuel instead of taking a ten minute trip across the channel to get more gas. It tells us the expected behavior is to kill a crewman on a boat that just rescued you — and never apologize, by the way. It tells us the expected behavior is to hide in the hull of a grounded ship and fight with the others already there, and never try to save yourself when someone (the Germans?) start shooting through the ship. It tells us there were no small units, no unit integrity, no squad leaders, no officers, no one in charge. It tells us the officers who were present took no actions except to stand on the mole and opine that doom is at hand, never once giving a single order to anyone.

    It’s a crying shame that so many people “identify” with the characters in this movie. A real shame.

    • #17
    • July 25, 2017, at 8:05 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. Titus Techera Contributor

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    But the story surely points out, the circumstances excused him.

    No they don’t. “Circumstances” never excuse immoral behavior.

    Is this your judgment on the story–or do you have a kind of theory of the case, such that people should suffer whatever horror meekly, lest the schoolmarms come & upbraid them or their posterity?

    • #18
    • July 25, 2017, at 8:13 AM PST
    • Like
  19. Titus Techera Contributor

    Skyler (View Comment):

    AUMom (View Comment):
    Dunkirk is not a movie to provide all the historical background. It is a movie to inspire the best in us and in our neighbors.

    Wow. This movie does the exact opposite. It tells us that we are helpless and nothing can be done about it. It tells us that no one is heroic (which was certainly not true of that battle), that the expected behavior is to be a shirker, using a wounded man as a prop to stow away on a hospital ship. It tells us that the expected behavior is to run your fighter plane out of fuel instead of taking a ten minute trip across the channel to get more gas. It tells us the expected behavior is to kill a crewman on a boat that just rescued you — and never apologize, by the way. It tells us the expected behavior is to hide in the hull of a grounded ship and fight with the others already there, and never try to save yourself when someone (the Germans?) start shooting through the ship. It tells us there were no small units, no unit integrity, no squad leaders, no officers, no one in charge. It tells us the officers who were present took no actions except to stand on the mole and opine that doom is at hand, never once giving a single order to anyone.

    It’s a crying shame that so many people “identify” with the characters in this movie. A real shame.

    You misunderstand everything. But you misunderstand it so thoroughly I cannot but applaud. Of course, it takes a willful blindness to describe the naval officers & the pilot as you do, but you’re more than up for the job!

    • #19
    • July 25, 2017, at 8:15 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  20. SkipSul Moderator
    SkipSul Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):
    It tells us that the expected behavior is to run your fighter plane out of fuel instead of taking a ten minute trip across the channel to get more gas.

    This was one of the really open moments of heroism in the film though. By running himself out of fuel he managed to down a bomber and save a transport. It was deliberate self sacrifice.

    • #20
    • July 25, 2017, at 8:15 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  21. Titus Techera Contributor

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    It tells us that the expected behavior is to run your fighter plane out of fuel instead of taking a ten minute trip across the channel to get more gas.

    This was one of the really open moments of heroism in the film though. By running himself out of fuel he managed to down a bomber and save a transport. It was deliberate self sacrifice.

    Not to the willfully blind. Nor the cheerful sacrifice of the Admiral / Commander…

    • #21
    • July 25, 2017, at 8:19 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. Penfold Member

    Loved it! The only thing I would ask for is subtitles in American English. (tongue firmly set in cheek).

    • #22
    • July 25, 2017, at 8:40 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  23. Skyler Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    It tells us that the expected behavior is to run your fighter plane out of fuel instead of taking a ten minute trip across the channel to get more gas.

    This was one of the really open moments of heroism in the film though. By running himself out of fuel he managed to down a bomber and save a transport. It was deliberate self sacrifice.

    Not to the willfully blind. Nor the cheerful sacrifice of the Admiral / Commander…

    Titus just loves making personal attacks even when talking about a stupid movie. No one must ever have a disagreement with his interpretation of a movie.

    • #23
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:10 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  24. Titus Techera Contributor

    My interpretation? You think I came up with this & nobody else? Wow.

    Your description of the action is woefully incomplete. Whatever the interpretation. Someone might think I got the movie wrong & you right. But no one could honestly say you described what happens on screen adequately or without a massive bias-

    • #24
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:15 AM PST
    • Like
  25. Skyler Coolidge

    skipsul (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):
    It tells us that the expected behavior is to run your fighter plane out of fuel instead of taking a ten minute trip across the channel to get more gas.

    This was one of the really open moments of heroism in the film though. By running himself out of fuel he managed to down a bomber and save a transport. It was deliberate self sacrifice.

    It was certainly brave but the depiction makes what was probably a very brave act in real life appear to be foolishness. The intentional time scale confusion, along with the terrible presentation of the tactical situation, makes it look like there wasn’t a good reason to stick around. It makes it appear that he could have flown back for fuel but instead stayed a week overhead in the off chance that he might be needed. But you’re right, it was the closest to being a positive portrayal.

    What’s jarring to me is that this post modern nihilistic view is accepted so readily in our culture. I think too many in our culture have no understanding of how people act when in danger.

    • #25
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:19 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  26. Brian Watt Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    My interpretation? You think I came up with this & nobody else? Wow.

    Your description of the action is woefully incomplete. Whatever the interpretation. Someone might think I got the movie wrong & you right. But no one could honestly say you described what happens on screen adequately or without a massive bias-

    https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/dunkirk-undone/

    • #26
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:35 AM PST
    • 1 like
  27. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    Skyler I have no idea what movie you watched but it wasn’t the same one the rest of us did.

    • #27
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:50 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  28. Titus Techera Contributor

    My own favorite contrarian, Mr. Armond White, didn’t like it. Some of his reasoning strikes me as sound; but even the rest, I see his point.

    I have far less patience for people who skirt around or plunge into accusing Nolan of nihilism.

    • #28
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:52 AM PST
    • Like
  29. Skyler Coolidge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Someone might think I got the movie wrong & you right.

    I should certainly hope so. Such is my intent.

    • #29
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:53 AM PST
    • 1 like
  30. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    My own favorite contrarian, Mr. Armond White, didn’t like it. Some of his reasoning strikes me as sound; but even the rest, I see his point.

    I have far less patience for people who skirt around or plunge into accusing Nolan of nihilism.

    I keep telling you, Armond White doesn’t like anything. Unless it’s foreign and no one is going to see it.

    • #30
    • July 25, 2017, at 9:55 AM PST
    • 2 likes