Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dunkirk

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_(2017_film)
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World War II, 1940. After France succumbs to the advances of Nazi Germany the remaining allied soldiers gather at the coastal town of Dunkirk to await evacuation. As the enemy gains more ground and bombs are continuously dropped on the retreating forces, hope starts to flicker. On the other side of the English Channel, civilian ship owners sail toward the battle in an effort to evacuate as many soldiers as they could within the holding capacity of their tiny sailboats. Soaring through the skies, a trio of Royal Air Force pilots do their best to deter the air strikes of German fighters despite the rapidly dwindling fuel supply of their Spitfires. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British private, is the only one to survive a ground attack that kills his entire unit en route to the evacuation point. Holding on to nothing more than the prospect of getting back to Britain in one piece, they must endure the non-stop attacks coming from all sides, all while attempting to help their comrades survive as well. Will their efforts suffice to make it back home?

Apparently, Whitehead is a newbie. In a way this is a good thing because the viewer does not end up distracted by star power or anything to that effect. Here you just have an ordinary lad forced to join a war not so far from home, not some big Hollywood name trying hard to be one. It can happen to anyone. You don’t want him to survive because he is Matt Damon or Tom Hanks. You just want him to make it through because he can be your brother, your nephew, your classmate. We are not saying that Dunkirk is anywhere near the vicinity of the term “documentary”. It’s just that the main attraction here is the story itself and it’s nice that such focus is maintained. There is no big hero who saves everyone from the impending doom. Instead we see a concerted team effort that eventually pays off, and the result just leaves you teary-eyed.

There are so many characters but only a handful of them turn out to be memorable. Perhaps your sympathy will be directed toward those who are more relatable. In our case, that would be the father and son tandem manning their sailboat. Not having participated in any war so far, we have to find someone whose situation is closer to ours. Nowadays civilians residing in more peaceful locales can contribute indirectly via donations and efforts not necessarily in the battlefield. Seeing those civilian boat owners rush to the war zone instead of sailing away from it fast is a unique aspect that gives you a different perspective of the event, a really touching one to say the least.

Oh wait, we have to mention Cillian Murphy. His character is the best example of the irreversible damage war can inflict on a human being. To some the character will serve as a villain, but if you look closely he is actually there as a representation of the collateral damage in conflicts like this, not in a literal sense but rather a metaphorical one. You often meet people like him in nursing homes who have advanced in terms of age but are forever scarred by the trauma they have experienced decades ago. It’s sad and it angers you at the same time, but they are the best living proof of how war does not really end after treaties are signed or penalties are imposed. Peace might be temporarily restored, but the personal damage to those dragged into it tend to be eternal. No money or verdict can change that.

Nail-biting. Intense. Hair-raising. You will easily run out of superlatives and expletives to describe this film. Nobody ever wants to experience the atrocities of war in his own lifetime. Of course, there is a grand difference between being a spectator and a participant to fully understand how such an event can damage a human being. But Christopher Nolan is such an expert when it comes to maximizing the combined power of image and sound to make you feel as though you were in the scene yourself. Dunkirk is compelling like that, which makes it particularly difficult to watch. If this film does not end up winning at least one technical Oscar, then there is no justice in this world.


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