Dunkirk: It’s About Time

Wow, it’s been awhile since my last post but I’ve been busy with job hunting… But I always have time for the cinema!

Spoilers ahead for Dunkirk

I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan. So I couldn’t wait to see Dunkirk in theaters. Now, I want to emphasize that this is review is based off an American’s point of view. So don’t hate me if you’re reading this in a different country… Perhaps England? Anyway, I think this was a classic Nolan movie and I really loved it but I did not feel affected by it. Basically, I had my pros and cons to this movie.

But let me explain.

I think Nolan took a movie that made got me on the edge of my seat with barely any action. Now keep in mind that I’m comparing this movie to other war classics such as Saving Private Ryan. That movie hits you hard in the beginning with the beaches of Normandy. We get to see a man holding his intestines for goodness sakes. Meanwhile, in Dunkirk the violence and action is much more tame. There is a lot of suspense. We don’t know when the Germans are going to show up. Or we are on the boat with a small group of citizens that have gone out to risk their lives to bring home their troops. The most action comes in the sky with Tom Hardy as the life saving pilot that ultimately sacrifices himself. We also follow a group of very young soldiers trying to get off the beach and get home. This features Harry Styles and he actually did a great job. I could just imagine the faces of young One Directioners as he drops the f-bomb after getting shot at by Germans.

Once again, Nolan’s partner in crime Hans Zimmer made a great score, which adds to the suspense and emphasizes the theme of time. Throughout the whole movie and I mean the WHOLE movie, this score features the sound of a ticking watch. I think this ultimately adds to the suspense because we don’t know when the Germans will close in and when help will come for all the stranded English soldiers. Especially when the variety of characters are trying to escape death, this score is extremely effective. It made me feel tense the whole time.

Another part of time in the movie is the timeline. As I mentioned in another post about Nolan, he loves to play with the timeline of the movie and the sequence of events. We start at the beginning but incorporating the three pilots and the boat of civilians the timeline starts to become distorted. We meet the Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy) on the boat but slowly the film backtracks. The film unknowingly rewinds and it is all three pilots back in the sky and two of them crash. Murphy is saved but we already knew he is saved… It is very difficult to explain and the timeline is confusing but somehow Nolan makes it work. You are able to follow along. I think that is the brilliance of his film.

Although the theme of time and the cinematography was amazing, there are some downfalls to the film.

I did not understand why Nolan picked the Battle of Dunkirk. To be honest, I just see it as a boring stand off and the Germans stopped bombing for a couple hours, which made it easier for the English to retreat. I did read some articles where Nolan talks about why he chose Dunkirk:

“‘Dunkirk is something that you grow up with as a British person,’ he said. ‘The telling of the story that you get is simplistic and mythical in a way, almost like a fairy tale […] Reality is messy, nothing is as simple as a fishermen jumping in rowboats and picking up troops, but the reality of what actually happend on that beach and across the channel is one of the great stories.'” (Source: http://www.indiewire.com/2017/07/christopher-nolan-interview-dunkirk-most-personal-film-1201857476/)

Basically, this film was personal to his childhood and his history. Personally, I had a hard time connecting to the film. I felt for the characters and it was very ominous when Hardy’s character is captured by Germans… But I did not feel it in my spirit. For instance war movies such as American Sniper, Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker, and even Brothers made me feel a sense of a patriotism. I was rooting for the success of the characters the whole time. This might make me seem like a psychopath but I almost did not care if the characters died. I almost thought Nolan would kill off Styles just to upset fans! Although I was upset at the end by George’s death and how his buddy gets him in the local newspaper for being a hero… But it wasn’t the same connection. I mostly think that I did not enjoy the film to the fullest because I lack the ability to relate to the English part of the war. I’m selfish so I only care about my American past. But this film did give me insight into what young soldiers faced and how they felt after their “failed” mission in Dunkirk.

The only way I connected was at the end with the great “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech by Churchill. Even though I’m not English, there was still that fighting spirit in the English that is universally shared by nations in war. This was the spirit that was difficult to connect to but I did feel that spark by the end of the film.

Overall, I did enjoy the film and this is the Nolan movie that everyone has been waiting for. It’s time for a movie like this to try and open up horizons. I would not say it is my favorite Nolan movie but I did enjoy the movie. If there is any time to see this movie, it would be now.

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