Review

(Shrugs) Well, I liked ‘Dunkirk‘ better than Christopher Nolan’s last film, ‘Interstellar‘; I’ll say that. (Sigh)

Has Nolan ever seem like a filmmaker who would make a straight-ahead war movie to you? I mean, I guess most people don’t begin with a war movie, so it’s probably always a bit of a shock to see somebody make one. I mean, until Spielberg made ‘Schindler’s List’, so… although in hindsight I can’t imagine anybody was surprised Oliver Stone made ‘Platoon‘, so, there goes that theory. Seriously though, I love Nolan, but for as popular a filmmaker as he currently is, the trick to him is that he’s always been a little more ethereal with his choice of projects than people realize. I mean, okay, I might not think much of ‘Interstellar‘, at all, but  he didn’t just make a normal space adventure, he was philosophizing and challenges elements of space and time, even the dimensions between them; I called it out for it’s bullsh*t, but that said, when you compare it to something more traditional in that genre, he’s definitely coming at you with ideas more than just a typical blockbuster film would.

This is probably why ‘Dunkirk‘ seems off to me. It’s not a bad movie by any standard, but I’m a little surprised. Although, then again, for some reason the Battle and Evacuation of Dunkirk seem to be on everybody’s mind this year. This is already the second movie I’ve seen this year after ‘Their Finest’, which was, ironically about a movie about Dunkirk and how the process of the creating and fictionalizing of the war began. (I’m not claiming it’s fictionalized in Nolan’s film, or that the Battle or whatever didn’t happen or exist, I’m talking about the process of taking a real life event and turning it into a piece of art, like a movie.) To some extent, this movie feels like, what would’ve happened in an alternative universe where the film in “Their Finest” was told straight. (Also, I’ve heard parts of ‘Darkest Hour‘ deal with this too, so everything is apparently about ‘Dunkirk‘ lately.) For those who don’t know their British Involvement in World War II History… (Reluctantly raises own hand), Dunkirk is a town in Nord Department of France, it’s actually about the northernmost point in Mainland France, and it’s right across from the English Channel. Anyway, this area was taken pretty quickly by Germany at the beginning of the Battle of France, and for some reason the Germans did not advance beyond it for awhile, apparently there was a Halt Order, not from Hitler though. Anyway, British, Belgian and French troops were surrounded and the Battle was not going well, and the British Navy didn’t have the ships to go pick up troops and bring them home, at least not home safely as the Germans from the air had reign over the channel, so civilians boats and ships, often headed by aged fisherman and other locals, most of whom had limited military experience at best, were essentially deputized to go out into the water, that, the Germans still had basic control of at that time, and help evacuate soldiers, either from the Beach if they can get there, or any of them that were surviving by, well, floating, in the channel, if they were alive

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Image via Warner Bros.

It’s a harrowing story, so I can see how it’s become a critical piece of British Military Folklore over the years, personally I can’t immediately think of an equivalent situation that America was ever involved in offhand, and Nolan is British, one of those weird facts that I think most of his superfans don’t even realize, so in that sense I guess, this makes sense. Still, on paper, and in execution, I only kinda understand where he’s coming from here. I think the real appeal of the movie, and the place where the movie is at it’s best is when we’re sucked into the horrors of war, not so much the battle scenes, in particular, but in the mindset of being at war. The visuals are what’s most noted in this movie, and there’s a ton of them, including several getting-ready-for-battle sequences and a lot of nightmarish scenarios playing out in real life, including one of my personal horrors, fire on water, that’s a triggering one for me that I got from my mom, because, well yeah, that’s not natural, but it’s the sense and mindset of war that I believe he’s going after. Take a look at Shrivering Soldier (Cillian Murphy) one of the soldiers saved by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), most characters here, barely have names and are only recognized by the way they act, look and behave really…-, anyway, Soldier is insisting the boat turn around and head home, as he is unable to deal with the war anymore, suffering from severe shellshock, but Mr. Dawson, an old fisherman on his private boat, is insisting he stays. as he continues, knowing that he is risking everyone’s life in order to try and get more soldiers. They even have guns, in case they need to fight. Watching the movie, especially the first hour or so, really puts you in that mindset and that’s when I kinda recognized a Nolan I’m familiar with here, ’cause the movie that most reminds me of ‘Dunkirk‘ oddly enough, is, ‘Insomnia‘.

Insomnia‘ was his rare remake of a Norweigan film that was about how it’s characters react and begin losing their mind and senses after a severe change of location and situation, in that film’s case, how an inability to sleep distorts it’s characters’ minds after detectives travels up near the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set in order to investigate a murder. In this case, instead of his character’s mindset distorted by lack of darkness and night or a lack of short-term memory loss, or space travel or becoming Batman, or whatever, magic, it’s the effects of War that he’s analyzing. Or, really that he wants to analyze. I think this is the movie he hoped was his ‘Apocalypse Now‘, but the way it turned out, it’s really more like his ‘The Thin Red Line‘, ’cause he is paying tribute to a real battle and real soldiers, so you have these conflicting things, where we have a bunch of nameless soldiers in the middle of this huge military failure trying to survive and get the hell out of, Dunkirk, and this other aspect of trying to get the emotional feel of that from the inside and out and never really fully pulling off either, but still leaving an emotionally cluttered experience behind.

I’m David Baruffi, and as always, I have the last word.

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Image via Warner Bros.



About the Author

David Baruffi
David Baruffi
David Baruffi has been a successful unemployed screenwriter for, let's be vague and call it "years". He's got a B.A. in Film Studies from UNLV, is a certified script supervisor and has done a little bit of everything in film, but mostly is a writer. Personally on his own blog "David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews" which is at www.davidbaruffi.blogspot.com,and professionally has written several scripts and stories, for himself, and for others and as a ghostwriter. When he's not doing that he watches his autistic brother most days and he looks like two old puppets.