Christopher Nolan’s latest work is based on the evacuation of British forces from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, a week after Winston Churchill assumed the office of Prime Minister. Nolan, as a student of his might expect, has a theme: survival, the difficulty and random chance of it, and the importance of it. He also manipulates time to have three different points of view play out over the length of the movie. (Unlike his more recent works, we’re under two hours with this one, at one hour, forty-six minutes.)
The movie has that quality of art wherein your personal reaction to it is an important part of the artwork. Nolan has said that he wanted to tell “an intensely subjective version of this story,” and does so from the points of view of several characters — even to the point of replaying some events to show them from different characters’ points of view.
My knowledge of WWII is probably above average, but it’s randomly acquired, and I know nothing of Dunkirk, nor much about the British Army. It’s been said that the Germans are unseen and unnamed in the movie. Not really: the officers refer to “the enemy,” but the troops are depicted using “German,” “Jerry,” and “f—ing German.”
There is an accidental killing from a moment of panic in the film, and the “killer” is treated to a charity which is hard to swallow. A soldier who had seem some death might have been that charitable, but as it played in the movie, I didn’t quite buy it.
There’s also a shot of a British destroyer, taking fire away from shore, and the anchor appears to be dropped. Did they forget to digitally remove the line? Or would dropping anchor have been done to prevent, or slow, a ship capsizing?
I’m frustrated. I really don’t know how to review this movie. It just worked, and worked so well, I didn’t really have anything to pick at. Nolan can get you strapped in the seat and drive you wherever he likes. This little slice of war, of survival, has it all: cowardice, foolishness, selfishness, panic, humility, bravery, sacrifice. “Edge of your seat” all the way, as the movie reviewers say.
And, survival. Escape to fight another day. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do. Victory has to be put off for another day, month, year.