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Dunkirk (2017)

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terlwyth Relationship Status: Who needs love when you have waffles?
Jul 23rd 2017 at 12:41:49 AM

George's death was badly handled and unnecessary. It would have been helpful if Nolan had broken his aversion to blood and gore or just left him leaving war blinded.

Luminous beings we are, not this crude matter
eagleoftheninth Just stay away and you'll be safe from me. from a kingdom of self-isolation Relationship Status: With my statistically significant other
Just stay away and you'll be safe from me.
Jul 23rd 2017 at 5:05:00 AM

AaaaAAAAaaaAAaaaaaaaAaaa

Oh god, I think I need to go out and breathe for a while.

Okay.

This is Nolan's best work, bar none. He's mentioned in an interview that he waited twenty years until he felt ready to tell the story, and it shows. I'll try to go through the points, one by one:

  • The aerial segments. This is what IMAX was made for. Every last frame is a goddamn work of art. The dogfights are simply overflowing with badass, and the wide open sea and sky provide a canvas for some of the most beautifully composed shots in movie history. Take note that Tom Hardy is in full Bane mode here - face mask, muffled voice and all - though the dialogue isn't all that important anyway.
  • War is obviously a complex subject, and war-related media have mostly focused on a single, limited facet of the experience. Faith, courage, loss, camaraderie, obsession, moral degradation, confusion, boredom. Dunkirk focuses on helplessness and raw, overwhelming terror. Every image and every sound in this movie pays heed to that goal and reminds you of the sheer scale of the events in motion. When the soldiers look up and see enemy dive-bombers roaring out of the clouds, you really feel like they're at the mercy of a smiting, vengeful sky god. When the Moonstone (Mr Dawson's yacht) sails by a destroyer carrying survivors, it looks like a giant wounded sea monster, slowly crawling out of the fog. There's an omnipresent, almost Lovecraftian sense to the catastrophe that simply dwarfs any one character's role - and by the end, you'll be thankful that any of them even manage to escape with their lives.
  • The movie is very deliberately minimalistic. There's little dialogue, practically no backstory or context, no blood and gore, minimum visual clutter, and the historical details are largely incidental rather than pivotal. Nolan makes a deliberate artistic choice to subtract ground-level accuracy in order to maximise the impact of what's happening on-screen, and allow the movie to focus closely on one thing at a time. It's probably not the best way to learn history on a factual basis - most viewers probably won't leave the movie knowing much more about Dunkirk than they did at the start - but I think it's a brilliant way to convey how much the event meant to the people on the ground and let the audience experience it the way it was lived.
    • As an aside, you might be interested to compare it to this famous long take from Atonement. It's an amazing piece of filmmaking in its own right, and the clutter and activities depicted in the scene are probably more true to life compared to Dunkirk. Yet those very details clearly mark it as a work of fiction made after the fact, with the benefit of (factual and emotional) hindsight. You're looking back at something that happened in the past - you're not there on the beach, on that faithful week, dreading the next attack and desperate for rescue.
  • Most reviews have discussed the chronological shenanigans that the movie pulls with its triple timeline. It actually feels pretty simple and straightforward on-screen, and though there are a few perspective twists, it's not really a plot element that you have to go over and over to understand a la The Prestige or Inception. If you do rewatch it, it'll likely be for the spectacle, not the extra plot layers.
  • Some critics said that there's no character development in the movie, but I think that kind of misses the point. The movie actually feels like a character study in places, only it doesn't paint a full picture of who these people are and what makes them tick - the disaster is simply too large and too overpowering for that to matter. Instead, it takes a slice of their character that they carry through the event and examines it in inside out.
    • Tommy is the most "vanilla" character, the Audience Surrogate. We don't know where he came from or what he was like before the retreat. He's simply a pair of eyes and ears for us to experience the movie through. Even his name implies this. We know he has some measure of wits and bravery - just not in any extraordinary amount, and certainly not enough to make any great difference. His fear and desperation to survive form the emotional current that underscores our perception of the movie's events.
    • The Shivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy's character) is a portrait of someone who, as Mr Dawson said, is "not himself" during the event. In a flashback-but-not-really, we see him as a calm, professional officer commanding his section on a rowboat. Yet all that changes when a torpedo attack leaves him as the Sole Survivor, and when we meet him proper, he's too deep in shock and trauma to even respond to a warm cup of tea. It changes him so much that the mere suggestion of returning to those beaches causes him to fly into blind panic and try to violently seize control of the yacht, inflicting a fatal head injury on George in the process. When he realises what he's done, he shrinks back in shame and regret, and in the end, he slips away without a word, unable to face the consequences of his action. Yet the movie doesn't demand that we judge him; it's already shown us an utterly horrifying torpedo attack from Tommy and co.'s viewpoint and juxtaposes it with the Soldier's rather more dignified introduction. Through his character, the movie challenges the war story convention of ordinary people rising up to heroism, and presents the flipside - that the trauma of warfare is a corrupting force, one that leaves people like you and me as a misshapen fragment than who they were.
      • Alex represents another foray into this theme. We know even less about his backstory, and he's still psychologically functional throughout the movie. Yet his every word and action betrays a sense of despair and frustration. When he and Tommy arrive in England, he remarks that the people back home must've felt that he's let them down. Later on he comments on how the old man doesn't look them in the eye, unaware that he's simply blind. It's not too hard to imagine that not too long ago, he might have been a prouder and more idealistic soldier, eager to earn battlefield glory - yet the dire strategic situation, held in hands much more powerful than his, has sent the army into a desperate retreat that robs him of this identity. Like the Shivering Soldier, he has a moment of moral lapse: when the trawler is taking on water, he panics and accuses Gibson of being a German spy (because he doesn't speak), then forces him to get off the boat at gunpoint (because he turns out to be a French deserter), and then threatens to do the same to Tommy (because he's not a Highlander like they are). Never mind that they're all people looking to survive just like he is, never mind that Gibson saved their collective arses from the sinking destroyer. In the moments of crisis, he holds on tight to his warrior identity to keep him going, and yet ends up betraying its principles as he succumbs to his own fear and desperation.
    • Mr Dawson and George are the most straight-up heroic characters in the movie, and the most consistently compassionate and kind. They're not even supposed to be there; all they had to do was to move the valuables out and hand over the yacht to Navy sailors for a few days, yet they Jumped at the Call to rescue the soldiers themselves. Their decision is made more poignant later on: by George's senseless death in the hand of his own countryman and by The Reveal that Mr Dawson had lost his eldest son at the beginning of the war. To him, every effort he makes in the rescue is an act to prevent the same tragedy from befalling someone else, and to make his sacrifice worthwhile; if he could save just one more person, it would have been worth it. It's frankly a beautiful (and heartbreaking) exploration of the idea that each personal loss is a tragedy unto mankind as a whole - and that each act of kindness elevates it.
      • [up] I think that George's death makes sense, thematically. One of the movie's running themes is the subversion of the idea that conflict and hardship gives people a chance to prove themselves and come out stronger. We've already seen various soldiers losing their courage, competence and strength in the face of extreme bodily danger; it only makes sense for the Dawsons to suffer a tragic, permanent loss themselves to highlight their ultimate lack of agency in the situation.
    • Farrier, the pilot, represents a different kind of heroism. In any other movie, he'd be a smooth-talking badass ace, pulling off maneuver after daring maneuver to gun down his foes in the nick of time. Here, he's an ordinary guy doing an extraordinarily stressful and dangerous job. The camera work and sound puts us right in the cockpit with him, exposed and vulnerable - as if a split-second's mistake could instantly and lethally end his mission. We see him repeatedly putting himself at risk for the mission. When he chooses to fly on in spite of a broken fuel gauge, it's par for the course for the average movie protagonist. Near the end, though, he has to make a choice between saving the destroyer and continuing his flight to the beach. We don't know whether he has enough fuel to make it back; hell, we don't even know whether he has enough to make it to the beach. He chooses to save all the lives he can, here and now, never mind the consequences for him later. Unlike with the Moonstone crew, though, the calculations extend beyond a simple desire to do the right thing. This is what needs to be done to win the war, and if he makes the wrong call, people will die in droves. If risking death or capture is the price to complete the objective, then so be it. His entire arc commemorates the fact that the real victory was won by thousands of ordinary people, just doing their jobs the best they could and putting their lives on the line when the need calls. The shot of the soldiers on the beach cheering after he shoots down the Stuka serves to show how these acts of heroism make up something larger than their sum, just like how his daring rescue resonates with far more people than he personally saves.
      • Peter, Mr Dawson's son, represents a subtler take on this idea. At the beginning, his involvement in the rescue effort comes from the same place as his father and George. But we see another side of him when the Shivering Soldier asks him whether George (who has expired from his injury) is okay, to which he simply answers, "Yeah". Here we have a boy who has just experienced a grievous personal loss, and it's stupid and it's unfair and he has every right to be furious. Yet he swallows his emotions, realising that his grief - no matter how righteous - will not help him carry out the task on hand, and keeps calm and carries on. It's like a very dark take on the British Stiff Upper Lip, and reminds us of the movie's focus on the working of society in times of disaster, where the individual is almost merely incidental.
    • Finally, Gibson is perhaps the closest thing the movie has to a traditional character arc. He starts the movie as a deserter who abandons his brothers-in-arms to escape, then makes the decision to rescue Tommy and Alex from the sinking destroyer, and finally sacrifices himself (perhaps pointlessly) to plug the holes and allow the rest to escape from the sinking trawler. It's never mentioned what actually drives his decisions (I'd guess guilt), but his character allows the movie to examine the arbitrary nature of disasters ("survival isn't fair") and asks us why this boy, who has already proven himself capable of standing up to crisis, is somehow less deserving of safety than any British character.
  • TL;DR of the above point: this is not a story where people stick to their training and ideals and triumph against overwhelming odds. This is a story where people lose, and they rarely come out of the experience better and stronger and yet they have to keep going because survival is the best victory they can hope for. It's not a rosy narrative - it's what people had to go through, seventy-odd years ago.
  • The soundtrack is perhaps Hans Zimmer's most experimental to date, full of immersive sound effects that ratchet up the atmosphere and tension to the point where it becomes downright unbearable. It distinctly lacks anything resembling a hummable melody (barring three tracks towards the end), yet it sucks you right into the movie and doesn't let go until the very end.

Please check on your extroverts during this difficult time.
Jul 23rd 2017 at 10:33:04 AM

In response to post #25 above...

...not to argue with an Army veteran but that was how the soldiers on the Dunkirk beaches actually lined up. One can see this from the photos, like this one

[1]

or this one

[2]

As far as manning the barricades, AFAIK most of the soldiers manning the barricades were in fact French so it would have been wrong to show the English fortifying the streets of Dunkirk. The point regarding poor tactics when Tommy's unit runs straight down the road instead of diving into buildings is well taken, but probably one should remember that those troops were exhausted and shell-shocked and were at the end of a long retreat all the way from northern France.

edited 23rd Jul '17 10:33:25 AM by jamespolk

eagleoftheninth Just stay away and you'll be safe from me. from a kingdom of self-isolation Relationship Status: With my statistically significant other
Just stay away and you'll be safe from me.
Jul 23rd 2017 at 6:00:20 PM

I wonder whether Tommy and his section were from another BEF unit that had gotten overrun to the south, maybe even having fled all the way from Arras just ahead of the advancing Germans. That certainly would explain why he looks completely lost throughout the whole movie, with no attempt to seek out an officer or NCO who would reorganise him with the remnants of his unit.

Please check on your extroverts during this difficult time.
dRoy Ready to Rant from The Happy Place Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ready to Rant
Jul 23rd 2017 at 10:48:07 PM

Man, this film has one of the most beautiful usage of Nimrod Enigma Variations.

Mother of god...You turned one of the hardest and best Champions into an absolute joke. - Zelenal
TamH70 Relationship Status: Faithful to 2D
Jul 24th 2017 at 5:51:15 AM

The British Army were never really taught the fine art of FIBUA, or Fighting In Built Up Areas, until after the Second World War, so them having crap tactics at the start of the film is basically Truth In Television. All the training that did occur pre-war was basically for a re-run of the First World War - and as we all know things didn't quite work out like that.

dRoy Ready to Rant from The Happy Place Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ready to Rant
Jul 25th 2017 at 4:14:11 AM

I do. (hollers mod)

Mother of god...You turned one of the hardest and best Champions into an absolute joke. - Zelenal
FluffyMcChicken Carolus Rex from Dominium maris Baltici Relationship Status: All is for my lord
Carolus Rex
Jul 27th 2017 at 7:51:21 AM

So Dunkirk has the distinction of being the first ever film that I edited tropes pages for. It's quite a feeling ranting about poor urban warfare tactics for all the world to see. [lol]

BBC: Does Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk ignore the role of the Indian army?

I actually expected to see an Indian or a Gurkha appear as a Token Minority while in the theater, and was rather disappointed that I didn't, what with Arab and Africans appearing among the French troops trying to board the hospital ship.

edited 27th Jul '17 7:51:33 AM by FluffyMcChicken

Jag har bestämt att aldrig föra ett orättvist krig, men att inte avsluta ett rättvist krig förrän mina fiender förlorat det.
LongTallShorty64 Frumpy and grumpy Relationship Status: What is this thing you call love?
Frumpy and grumpy
Jul 27th 2017 at 7:59:44 AM

Are there any great WWII depictions of the Indian Army involvement? Or any other colonies (cough, Canada, cough)? Because we really need some that aren't Euro/American-centric.

"It's true that we had a gentleman's agreement, but unfortunately, I am no gentleman."
theLibrarian That all you got? from his own little world
That all you got?
Jul 27th 2017 at 9:02:47 AM

I don't think so, unfortunately. Which is a shame, because I think the Burma Campaign could be an interesting thing.

That is the face of a man who just ate a kitten. Raw.
Jul 27th 2017 at 9:22:46 AM

Finally caught the film yesterday. They really should have shown German faces.

TompaDompa from Sweden
Jul 27th 2017 at 10:11:16 AM

Why? Das Boot didn't need to show Allied faces.

Ceterum censeo Morbillivirum esse eradicandum.
Jul 27th 2017 at 11:18:31 AM

[up] Fair enough then.

Now then, in regards to the ending: After shooting down that Stuka, why didn't Farrier just land immediately after? That way, he could have joined the fleeing British Army and not get himself captured by the Germans.

eagleoftheninth Just stay away and you'll be safe from me. from a kingdom of self-isolation Relationship Status: With my statistically significant other
Just stay away and you'll be safe from me.
Jul 27th 2017 at 12:27:04 PM

He's gliding dangerously low at that point, and has probably burned a lot of airspeed trying to get a firing solution on the Stuka. Plus Collins' ditching scene has already shown us why you don't want to land on water.

Ejecting isn't really an alternative either - if he jumps over land, there's no guarantee the chute will slow down his fall in time, and if he jumps over water, there's a good chance of getting tangled and drowning. Plus the Spitfire (and its German rival, the Bf 109) has a notoriously cramped cockpit that's kind of hard to get out of, let alone when you're in an unpowered glide and liable to lose control at any moment.

Please check on your extroverts during this difficult time.
Jul 27th 2017 at 12:43:46 PM

[up] But all he did after shooting down that Stuka was make flybys. Not only that, he could have gotten to work on getting the landing wheels prepared immediately after shooting down the Stuka.

edited 27th Jul '17 12:44:38 PM by HallowHawk

Jul 27th 2017 at 2:59:45 PM

"BBC: Does Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk ignore the role of the Indian army?"

Sweet Jebus, I hate articles like this.

"Does Dunkirk ignore the roles of Poles who fled to England in 1939?"

"Does Dunkirk ignore the role of Canadians?"

"Does Dunkirk ignore the role of American volunteers in the RAF?"

"Does Dunkirk ignore the role of people named Steve?"

Tuckerscreator from Traveling through the Multiverse Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Jul 27th 2017 at 3:33:07 PM

I mean, it was pretty easy for Wonder Woman to acknowledge the involvement of Indian soldiers in WWI. Just a few two second shots showing they were there. Not that hard.

“If your good mood was ruined because you got into an accident with a car...”
JackOLantern1337 Shameful Display from The Most Miserable Province in the Russian Empir Relationship Status: 700 wives and 300 concubines
Shameful Display
Jul 27th 2017 at 3:55:39 PM

Their weren't many Indians at Dunkirk. From what I recall their were three pack mule companies and two of them were evacuated.

I Bring Doom,and a bit of gloom, but mostly gloom.
Jul 27th 2017 at 4:05:01 PM

"Just a few two second shots showing they were there. Not that hard."

What about Belgian staff officers?

What about the Welsh?

What about Jewish refugees from Vienna?

Norwegian captains in the merchant marine?

Hey, were there any anti-Franco Spanish Republicans there?

Stories like that are idiotic. An intelligent article might ask where are the movies about General Slim's campaign. Where are the movies about Imphal? Why was practically the only movie about Burma made by Americans with Errol Flynn?

Tuckerscreator from Traveling through the Multiverse Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Jul 27th 2017 at 4:39:03 PM

I do agree with you that it's impossible for a single media work to be all encompassing, but 60% is still better than 50%. I figure if Dunkirk the film had any few shots of Indian participants or Jewish or Belgian, there would've been no discussion here claiming said shots lowered the quality of the film.

An intelligent article might ask where are the movies about General Slim's campaign. Where are the movies about Imphal? Why was practically the only movie about Burma made by Americans with Errol Flynn?

Making more movies is fine by me. Though, current blockbusters purport to be aimed at the widest "possible" audience. More movies is perfectly fine a solution, but, well, it's easier to edit one movie than it is to make two or four or more.

edited 27th Jul '17 4:45:29 PM by Tuckerscreator

“If your good mood was ruined because you got into an accident with a car...”
LongTallShorty64 Frumpy and grumpy Relationship Status: What is this thing you call love?
Frumpy and grumpy
Jul 27th 2017 at 7:09:23 PM

I'm not saying Dunkirk needed to fill some sort of quota of representation: it's made by Brits about Brits. I only wish a general wish that our fascination with WWII could extend to different perspectives too. Thinking about it though, Dunkirk is one of those types of films since not a lot of movies about it exist. Or correct me if I'm wrong.

"It's true that we had a gentleman's agreement, but unfortunately, I am no gentleman."
Jul 27th 2017 at 8:05:49 PM

[up]There's a French movie, Weekend at Dunkirk, and a 1958 film starring Richard Attenborough, Dunkirk.

FluffyMcChicken Carolus Rex from Dominium maris Baltici Relationship Status: All is for my lord
Carolus Rex
Jul 27th 2017 at 8:39:09 PM

Polk, I think the point that many were trying to make was how Dunkirk explicitly showed Arab and African colonial troops among the French ranks. As a result, many - including myself actually - expected to see an Indian or a Gurkha show up at any moment since it was clear that Nolan and the production paid enough attention to detail as to include two Token Minority groups that actually played a major role in the Allied war effort.

Sincerely, Nixon. [lol]

edited 27th Jul '17 8:40:15 PM by FluffyMcChicken

Jag har bestämt att aldrig föra ett orättvist krig, men att inte avsluta ett rättvist krig förrän mina fiender förlorat det.
dRoy Ready to Rant from The Happy Place Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ready to Rant
Jul 27th 2017 at 9:44:39 PM

Random thought.

Am I the only one who thinks that this movie actually feels like a disaster movie? I find the portrayal of the Nazis in this movie really fascinating. There are many good WWII movies in which Nazis are portrayed more humanely...but I've never seen any movie where it takes such a sharp opposite direction that they feel more like a force of nature.

Mother of god...You turned one of the hardest and best Champions into an absolute joke. - Zelenal

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