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Fridge / Dunkirk

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Fridge Brilliance:

  • Why did Nolan name the protagonist Tommy? Because "Tommy Atkins" was a nickname for British soldiers during World War I and World War II, making it very appropriate for The Everyman representing the British Army during the battle.
  • Gibson (A French soldier disguised as a Brit) as a metaphor for the French role in Dunkirk: He helps the British soldiers several times despite simply wanting to survive himself; but in the end, he gets left behind and dies.
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  • In the scene where the He 111 bomber crashes into an oil slick and traps numerous sailors in the fire, the viewpoint briefly changes to a soldier who tries desperately to hold his breath underwater, before being forced to surface and then horribly burns to death. The soldier's face isn't seen clearly at first, and Tommy, who is being pulled aboard the Moonstone, is covered in oil and grime, leading the viewer to believe for a moment that the unfortunate burning soldier was indeed Tommy. While the Bait-and-Switch might feel jarring at first, it ties into the overarching theme of individuals being rendered helpless and having little agency over the events in motion, as it shocks us into remembering that the protagonists are just as vulnerable and desperate to survive as the unnamed soldier, and that our implicit trust in their importance versus the other soldiers' expendability is ultimately arbitrary.
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  • A lot of viewers wonder why Farrier doesn't land his out-of-fuel Spitfire inside the Allied perimeter. If you look carefully, though, he's actually already started to deploy his landing flaps when he makes his first pass over the beach. By turning around to shoot down the Stuka, he burns most of his remaining airspeed, which forces him to glide on forward and set down quickly instead of banking around towards the Allied-held beach. This decision perfectly mirrors his tendency to risk his own safety if it gives him a chance to save more lives, as shown by his earlier decision to turn back to defend the destroyer from German planes while running out of fuel.
  • You probably wouldn't have noticed it the first time, but the first several minutes of Dunkirk establish the logic of its "designing principle" (i.e. how the film tells its story) fairly well, with its use of on-screen text and the camera shots that go with them.
    1. "The Mole" begins with alternating cuts between Tommy's regiment and the opening text, going back and forth. The text card progresses forward in time with each new line, just like the soldiers progressing through the abandoned street. Once the text card is finished, Tommy's group is attacked, leaving him the only survivor. After Tommy escapes to the beach, the text "1. the mole / one week" appears—several camera shots into this sequence, spanning from town to Tommy's view of the mole. And to hammer it home, when that text disappears, the beach is then attacked by Stukas from overhead, which most of the soldiers survive.
    2. "The Sea" begins with George running to the docks toward the Moonstone. The text "2. the sea / one day" appears in the second camera shot of George at the docks, which is far shorter than "The Mole's". Soon after, the scene establishes that Mr. Dawson and Peter are getting the boat ready to rescue their army from Dunkirk—an operation that has yet to be made known to anyone at the mole (as of the beach attack from Tommy's perspective) just yet.
    3. "The Air" is the shortest of the three. The Fortis planes are introduced in a sweeping shot—and at the end of this one camera shot, the text "3. the air / one hour" appears. The camera then brings pilots Collins and Farrier into focus, with Fortis Leader setting their mission to assist the underway rescue efforts.
      • The second time we cut to Fortis ends with them flying over the Moonstone, which is already sailing a good distance across the Channel already. This illustrates that both Sea and Air take place on the same day and implies that Tommy's not going anywhere for a while.
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Fridge Horror:

  • The shivering soldier's first appearance (chronologically, not in the movie proper) is of him commanding a lifeboat, with the implication that he's an officer and the troops with him are under his command. So not only has he survived his ship being sunken and a spell on the cold channel (for god knows how long) by the time the Moonstone found him, he's probably lost every man under his command. No wonder he's so traumatized.
    • When he's first rescued, he jumps off the tip of the stern above water, meaning that there is enough air to still keep the ship afloat, and those who survived the torpedoing, trapped inside, and breathing until the oxygen runs out.
  • Peter lost his brother and his friend in a short span of time, and he'll be of age to join the fighting before the war is over.
  • By the time the film ends, World War 2 is really only just getting started. The British have the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, and five more total years of war to look forward to. Many of the survivors may well die before it's all over.

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