400,000 Men Couldn’t Get Home, So Home Came For Them
The message from hell descending from the clouds. The sea waves escorting back the dead bodies. The civilian boats rescuing the freezing fate-less soldiers. Casualties outnumbering the survivors. Hark! the bombers are approaching and releasing your death certificates. Realize! the fuel is getting low! So decide either you drop your plane to the sea or shoot your rival pilot.
There is panic everywhere, there is sonic everywhere. There is no amount of food, there is no hope for good. More than 300 thousand soldiers are trapped on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk in an uncanny weather. France has fallen to the Germans and their troops are to reach the site anytime. But the Commander is hoping that they all will be back – Home.
Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan‘s latest project, a war film whose storyline and characters are fictional in nature but relies on the rich historical accuracy based on the historic evacuation of the Allied forces during World War II. Nolan has touched the new dimensions of the filmmaking of war films. For ages, the filmmakers have strived in convincing the audience by making ‘lengthy’ war films but Nolan’s warfare drama runs for only 106 minutes and proves that it is just a matter of speaking the story in the most formidable manner. Nolan proves that to make a successful war film, a coherent presentation plays a major part, not the length of the script.
“I’d rather fight waves than dive-bombers.”
The story is divided into three divergent segments of land, water, and air. There is a stupendous balance in all the three segments with the land story definitely being more of a blood boiler. Thousands of the soldiers standing, sitting, lying in the queue on the sands of the beach await their fate and hope for deliverance. When I say lying on the beach, few are the dead bodies.
War films are acutely loud and noisy. But here there is no massive bullet-firing in the whole film, no earth-shattering blasts or powerful destructions. The grip of the plot is kept at loose ends. Dunkirk’s script is build on intensity. More than killing, the film is about saving the lives and rendering a valuable service for the people stuck in the battle.
Yes, the nature of this war-subject is saving more than killing but like I wrote above that it is the intensity, the incredible screenplay of bringing things into either an argument or a question mark. The sequences and consequences of numerous scenes drop the emotions displaying the significance and tragic life conclusions like a boatman losing his son, a soldier dropping his helmet and walking towards the sea waves, a pilot watching his plane burnt etc.
“He’s shell-shocked, George. He’s not himself. He might never be himself again.”
Angel of death knocks the door everywhere and it is not a matter of bombs but other critical things like an oiled human body trying to wash himself in haste before it catches the fire on the water or a young soldier making an unsuccessful attempt to catch the ladder of the boat before fainting into the water.
Another impressive factor of the film is the target age-group of the troops portrayal. Mostly in the film are extremely young men. The impact is hard but I like the way the young skins are put to test in the biggest scare of their lives. There were two such scenes shot on the boys giving a fascinating look on the labor and patience during the war times. One was when the two young soldiers witness a helpless gashed soldier on the stretcher. Both heed each other’s possible signal and prepare to lift the heavy stretcher miles towards the boat running and staring the other dead bodies on the beach. The other scene is when the German troops shot at the trawler for target practice where the young soldiers are hiding and no one has the courage of volunteering to release from the boat.
The film is blessed with an ensemble cast whose characters are equally divided in all the three segments. The beauty of the screenplay is that there is no main character. All the characters support each other in their segment i.e., the character of the boatman, Mr Dawson, played by Mark Rylance is indeed the lead character on the sea but his sons, Peter and George, have decent onscreen appearance subjected towards the gallantry. Rylance piloted his character boat every day and listened to the audio recordings at the Imperial War Museum. Cillian Murphy plays the rescued soldier who suffers the psychological impact of the war. Being short in the role, his mental acting performance was exceptional. To improve his character, Murphy read about the psychological trauma the soldier endured.
“Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?”
Tom Hardy is the RAF pilot playing the major role flying in the clouds but his fellow RAF pilot, Collins played by Jack Lowden, is not to be considered underrated. On land, Kenneth Branagh is the commander, loosely based on Admiral William Tennant, but also attached to him is James D’Arcy as Colonel Winnant. But the weight of the characters is equal keeping in mind that the former’s character is verbal as compared to the latter’s character being physical.
Among the young soldiers, the character of Tommy played by Fionn Whitehead was impressive than Alex played by Harry Styles. In fact, Fionn’s performance was indeed the most impressive one who surely had the most minutes throughout the film. Fionn’s character Tommy was named after the slang term ‘Tommy‘ which was commonly used for the ordinary British soldiers. When Nolan auditioned Harry Styles, he was not acquainted with his immense popularity.
Audience pointed Hardy’s contribution to the film as best but he was just a pilot flying the plane in the whole film. It was actually not Hardy’s performance but the character to be counted as the most valuable one.
“How hard is it to find a dead Englishman on Dunkirk beach, for God’s sake?”
Musical department? Hans Zimmer to Nolan is what John Williams to Spielberg. Easily the most powerful director-musician combo after the latter. And here Zimmer has gifted the audience with just another masterpiece in music. The sound of the watch ticking (often played at the start of the trailer) was actually Nolan’s own pocket watch synthesized by Zimmer. Also to his credit is including Edward Elgar‘s most famous variation ‘Nimrod’ from his Enigma Variations in the film’s dramatic theme. Sound mixing is excellent. The roar of a falling enemy aircraft from the sky will haunt you.
Dunkirk is supreme at almost every technical department. Nolan’s screenplay is superbly balanced with Lee Smith‘s editing. The timing of the segments’ stories kept changing ahead and behind to show from other character’s point of view and it is indeed the beauty of editing which makes Dunkirk attract the audience understand the depth of the story from different angles. Hoyte van Hoytema‘s cinematography is sublime. I loved the aerial plane attacking shots.
Christopher Nolan keeps experimenting a new genre and develops his directional methods and ways of telling the stories. His direction is frank, polar and strict to the subject. In first half an hour, the presentation of the film is concentrating on the happenings at the beach, in the air, and at the sea with very remote dialogues. With the help of a phenomenal film editing, Nolan has crafted his Nolanistic method of depicting the heightened realism and giving the viewers a chance to see his artistry like resurrecting for a reason.
Dunkirk is so superior film that in a premiere the Dunkirk veterans wept and expressed if they time traveled back in Dunkirk. The veterans approved the realism and precise presentation of the war. Many critics have declared Dunkirk to be Nolan’s best work to date. It truly is a difficult question with more arguments than announcing the conclusion. Between his Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Dunkirk, it seems impossible to pick the best and ignore the rest.
In my opinion, Dunkirk is the greatest war film ever made and will be remembered for ages. The greatest in a sense that the subject has been addressed and crafted in the most excellent form and has to be included in an elite list of the greatest war films like Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan.
“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. and even if this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”