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The Silences of Dunkirk

This one is not going to be easy.  For one, we are talking about Nolan, who is one of current mainstream cinema’s “golden boys” thus being generally quite adored; and additionally, dealing with a re-make WWII drama usually tends to be a tricky endeavour but here goes.

I was quite lucky to have seen this movie in 70 mm actually and I need to admit that it did the trick for me. The incredibly wide and scenic shots certainly made me gasp for air a few times and if nothing else, visually the movie was an absolute experience.

There are certainly a few things that I found to be a bit weak in the movie, or rather thought could have been done differently. The amount of side characters, while generally done for the obvious reason of parallel and time-lapsing storytelling to me seemed highly unnecessary. While I think Nolan was going for showcasing the full scale of the drama surrounding the Dunkirk mission, illustrating the different levels of complexity and effect it had, to me that added to weakening the intensity of the key characters and storyline (note I say key and not main, you will see why below). While they might be interesting in themselves, some of the side characters were portrayed just too shallow or taken from screen too abruptly or too soon (won’t reveal more to avoid spoilers). Take the civilian fleet for example – I personally really liked that part of the story, and from what I could tell it seems to be key to the actual historical happening, but to me it felt a little bit underrepresented in its scale. Which relates a bit to some of the criticisms I have seen pop by online, and namely the lack of (historical) context, which I actually thought to be a strength. For me this movie was more about a feeling or an emotion being evoked and less so about the actual depiction of a historical event. Which brings me to my next points…

Here are three reasons why I think you should go see Dunkirk (2017):

1. Yes, the visual journey behind the war scenes

The movie is masterfully filmed. From the wide, glistening under the sun surface of the sea under the wings of RAF planes to the suffocating hopelessness of being stuck on a drowning ship, the movie takes you in from minute one.  To me, it is a visual masterpiece, creating a stunning representation of the hope-in-times-of-hopelessness human behavior paradigm.  The shade of the sun during the day versus the depth of the night shots, the illusion of emptiness of the beach despite the fact that there are 400,000 soldiers on it, the calmness of some scenes versus the tension in others. And oh my god, the sky battles ?!?

2. When the main characters are not the main characters

For me this movie experimented with a very subtle, less conventional form of storytelling. While at first glance you think you are following a couple of main characters, you soon come to realize that the main characters of this movie are in fact not who you think. The melting lines between the storylines, the shift between characters and the fact that they are presented more in the background of the setting illustrates the real depth of the story’s “agency”. You are not following the survival of one soldier, but that of all and none. You hope for rescue to come not from the kind old man and his son, but from humanity itself. There is a reason why the focus in this movie on the enemy side or the actual battles is brought to a minimum. The main characters of this movie for me are the sea, the sky and the beach with their vastness and reach, pushing and pushing the characters beyond their character and story arcs. The environment stands for the enemy not so much as the army on the other side but rather the contrast between survival and honour, the person it brings out and the struggles within rather those without.

3. When a story needs no words

One of the things that struck me the most after I left the movie theatre was the action, music and dialogue, or more the lack thereof! What a powerful way to tell a story without actually telling the story. I definitely have a soft spot for alternative storytelling and Nolan and his team certainly hit that spot for me. If you watch or re-watch the movie, pay attention as to impressively low amount of dialogue or music. The story is not being told to you, it comes in as a wave of feelings directly into you not with action–filled scenes but with tension, not with speaking or explanations, but with silence, behavioural nuances and scenery.

I hope these three thoughts are convincing enough to spark some interest in this movie. I hope you check it out and more importantly do share your thoughts on it, whether you agree with the above or totally disagree.

Total score: 8.9

[Poster source: , copyright by Warner Bros]

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