Who knew that after years of toying with our brains, the weirdest thing director Christopher Nolan could come up with is a historic movie? There isn't any spinning totem at the end or a surprise visit from Batman - this is a return to normal old planet Earth.

I refuse to call Dunkirk a war film because that would mean that the battle includes at least two parties fighting each other. What it is, is a survival story. The majority of the movie sees the one-sided systematic slaughter of the cut-off British, French, Belgian, and Canadian troops by the Nazis (with a focus on the Brits).

Names aren't a big part of Dunkirk since it focuses on the escape as a whole. There isn't some general in a far-off land eating crumpets and plotting the rest of World War 2. What you get instead are ground, air, and sea perspectives of the evacuation through the eyes of soldiers and civilians.

Nolan's conscious effort to emit any Germans makes it feel like the Nazis aren't people but rather a force of nature so ominous that it sets everyone on edge.


The way the soldiers on land are portrayed as struggling survivors rather than grizzled army men paints a picture of desperation. They fumble with their weapons. They quarrel with comrades over who gets to board the boat first. And when push comes to shove, they are forced to make some very tough decisions. Centered on the relatively unknown Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, and freaking Harry Styles, the three bring out the various characteristics of men who just want to go home.


On the other side of the water, Mark Rylance plays Mr. Dawson, a mariner who, with his son Peter and young friend George, is on his way to aid in the evacuation. Unaffected by the ravages of war, they soon come across a shell shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy. This dynamic and their exchanges with the war veteran serve to expound on the inner thoughts that the soldiers back on Dunkirk are too mum to talk about.


Lastly we have Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden, who play two Royal Air Force pilots who seem to be the only ones doing any real fighting. After getting their planes damaged in an aerial dogfight, the two must work together to take on an entire fleet of Nazi bomber planes. Most of their dialogue consists of barking orders and exchanging information with each other, but the way they struggle to overcome their predicaments helps add a sense of desperation and urgency in the skies of battle.

In fact, a lot of the dialogue in the movie just serves as proof that the characters aren't mute. Most of the storytelling is done through actions. Be they the frantic swimming of shipwrecked soldiers or Tom Hardy's hasty chalk memos of his remaining fuel, each gesture feels deliberate and has meaning.


That isn't to say the audio quality is lacking. With a soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer and sound effects that will leave you deaf in the ear, watching a war zone never felt so real or so urgent.

Gunshots sound like actual gunshots and aren't muffled to sound like the pistol of some kid playing Call of Duty in the next room. The enemy planes carry a distinct buzz like an army of bees and as they get closer, become ear-splittingly terrifying. Couple that with Zimmer's choice to denote the importance of time with the sound of a ticking pocket watch and you have a score that catches you off guard like a stranger in a public toilet.

But the film isn't perfect.


Despite the losses and dramatic scenes, Dunkirk still romanticizes war to a certain extent by casting the opposing party as the "bad guys". Even if the Nazis were the closest real world equivalents to supervillains, war itself isn't about becoming a hero and saving the day.

Another issue that falls down to personal preference is Christopher Nolan's specific direction for the film. If you were a fan of Memento, Inception, or Interstellar and were hoping for something like the underwater kingdom of Atlantis at the bottom of Dunkirk, then you will be sorely disappointed. The movie is as straightforward as it gets and barring an early twist that is easy to decipher, the heartwarming ending can be seen a mile away.

This doesn't make the film bad; it is just targeted at an audience that isn't composed of conspirational nuts who think Adolf Hitler and Walt Disney were one and the same. Dunkirk is a gritty interpretation of the events that happened back in 1940. Though some of its stories may seem pointless (like George's wish to be in the newspapers), everything ties together to form a film that is both historic and suspenseful. 




About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.


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