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A Defeat of Known Victory: Film Review of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk A Defeat of Known Victory: Film Review of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk
by Mirella Ionta
2017-08-01 09:59:50
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I entered the theatre to watch this movie in IMAX format and I did not know what to expect. I had not read any reviews on it and did not know what actors were playing which roles. I just knew, from my college history class, that Dunkirk was a city near Belgium that was occupied by French and British troops during WWII. Soldiers were trapped at that town and were in dire need of an evacuation before the enemies could flank them. History books tell us that Germans were given a “Halt Order” so that the allied forces would get the chance to evacuate. The evacuation is hailed as a success by mainstream textbooks, which boast that large numbers of men were brought to safety.

dunk01_400This film does not focus on those men that were salvaged but recounts the horrors of a badly organized evacuation, with the German air force hovering like hawks over the allied troops stuck on shore. Bombs are launched back-to-back, while the soldiers naively await their rescue ships, many left on shore to die cold. This is no Disney fairy tale with a happy ending. Nolan takes full advantage of every moment on the big screen to unveil the harsh challenges of this battle.

The allied forces get bombed like mad. As a Canadian viewing the movie, I was tempted to holler out loud “So much for the Halt Order, eh?” At one point, thousands of troops are cramped onto the pier, the bombs drop, the wooden plank on which they stand cracks open, the seas swallow them alive. Some men are already burnt to the bone before the waters take them away.

From the IMAX effect, the viewer feels the intense crackling of wood under the soldiers’ feet as bomb tremors hit. Nolan and his director of photography put a wide lens camera and detailed film grain to ingenious use. Panoramic views of the landscape allow the viewer to feel reduced to the size of an ant in the grand scheme of battle, surrounded by hazy skies and murky waters, unable to see the horizon.

Nolan’s documentary-like style has creative epic twists, making it clear that this war film is not the typical Hollywood blockbuster about WWII. Nolan’s directing style for Dunkirk and Spielberg’s for Saving Private Ryan are as different as night and day. The films could have looked similar as both of their opening scenes take place on beaches that are geographically located in Northern Europe. But Nolan’s unique artistry does not allow for any commonality between the two to be drawn.

I must say that, without the casting of such overly commercialized actors as Matt Damon, Tom Hanks, and Vin Diesel, Dunkirk could be taken more seriously at face value. And the violence depicted is just enough, not exaggerated for the mere purpose of shock. The blood and gore spilled and captured on camera was necessary for the storytelling.

Other viewers beg to differ. “It was just a bunch of guys shooting each other. There was no intricate plot, no developed dialogue between characters, and no individual character development,” one man rants out loud outside the movie theatre. True, I thought, but I like the fact that there was not one hero or one character outshining another. The soldiers just looked like biscuit crumbs and duck eggs, promised salvation only to be greatly deceived by indifferent and incompetent political leaders.

Besides, a movie’s credibility as a history-based movie could be ruined if it allowed for unnecessary film elements to develop. The only downside to not having developed the characters more deeply-from what I could judge- would be the “conveying of emotions” factor. An audience would find it difficult to feel emotionally affected if undeveloped characters’ withhold their own emotions. My concern throughout the movie mostly stemmed from the questions “What happened to the Halt Order?” and “Where was the Winston Churchill that we came to know in history books, so determined to win the war?” What those books consider to have been a victory for allied troops was, in reality, a humiliating defeat.

While our minds are conditioned by glorified versions of the past and our taste buds are satisfied by buttered popcorn sold at inflated prices, Dunkirk bursts our pink bubbles, presenting war in its raw shape, color, and form, empty of all meaning and order. Critics will say it is void of plot and dialogue, but those poetic, striking images make Nolan’s film an Oscar-worthy picture nonetheless.



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