This past Thursday night, I had the privilege to see the new WWII flick Dunkirk. Directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk introduces viewers to a different side of the war, an intimate look at the evacuation of 400,000 French, Belgian, Dutch and British soldiers at Dunkirk beach on the north shore of France in May 1940. Under air and ground cover by the Germans, the battle was expected to end in one of two ways: surrender or annihilation. However, the battle ended in neither as naval and civilian ships were able to slowly and methodically evacuate 330,000 soldiers. The evacuation has since been known as the "Miracle of Dunkirk."
Visually stunning and experimental, Nolan focuses on the emotions surrounding the soldiers during the evacuation and the film itself has very little dialogue. I was consistently on the edge of my seat, knee bouncing with anxiety as I watched and felt these soldiers try and get home, something they could almost see across the narrow English Channel. The film offers no backstory on the war, no scenes of Winston Churchill planning decisions, no loved ones worrying back home.
Except for a couple of enemy planes, there are no Nazis except for the knowledge that their artillery lies beyond the hills and their U-boats below the waves. While the explosions caused from the torpedos and aerial dogfights are enough to satisfy any action junkie, there is no fighting and certainly no winning. The only thing of importance to these soldiers is surviving.
While the story doesn't focus on the individual characters at all (you rarely even catch a name), there are moments of deep intensity and profound humanity and I found myself crying more than once during the course of the 109 minutes. New faces to the big screen, such as Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles, pull you into the story because you aren't focused on seeing your favorite movie star perform; you see them as soldiers. These fresh faces capture the youth of the frightened soldiers.
The movie was shot entirely on large-format film, 75 percent of it IMAX, so if you have the chance to see it in an IMAX theater, take it. At the end of the film, when one of the returning men is congratulated on their return, he broods "All we did is survive," and the man responds "That's enough." But it was much more than that, for if they hadn't survived, the course of WWII would have played out much differently. Never have I seen a war film so stunningly shot and unequivocally raw. Dunkirk is the perfect tribute to this battle of survival.