“Commander Bolton: You can practically see it from here.
Captain Winnant: What?
Commander Bolton: Home.”
‘Dunkirk’, directed by Christopher Nolan in 2017, is a British and American war movie focusing on the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from mainland Europe in the summer of 1940. The film is divided into three narrative strands: the first takes place over a week and concerns the soldiers on the beach, the second takes place over a day and focuses on a small civilian boat travelling from Dorset to help the evacuation, the third takes place over an hour and takes place in the air, as two Spitfire pilots cross the channel to protect the boats and men. These three strands interview in a complex series of encounters and crises until they are finally united on the French coast. Despite the narrative complexity, ‘Dunkirk’ is an intense, streamlined movie. Nolan uses techniques of silent cinema to get across emotion and events with minimal dialogue, telling the story through action and spectacle. Nolan also uses the raw, documentary feel of ‘The Battle of Algiers’ to add texture to his movie. Hans Zimmer’s music plays almost constantly, atonally and anxious, underpinned by the repeated sound of a ticking clock. The whole film is designed to ratchet up the tension of the situation, to drive forward the three time periods, and to give the viewer a sense of the tension and apparent hopelessness of the situation. This is not to say the film lack intimacy however, the scenes on the civilian boat, featuring Mark Rylance at a veteran sailor, play out a particular story about sacrifice and the effects of war, whilst the soldiers on the beach are all intricately drawn, each with their own motivations and personalities. But it is a film in which the visual spectacle is key and is one of those that should really be seen in as big and loud a cinema as possible.
Would I recommend it? Yes – alongside ‘Come and See’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ it’s one of the most intense and satisfying depictions of warfare. Watch in a double bill with any of them.