So I’ve seen Dunkirk twice. Twice in the same weekend, as a matter-of-fact. No, it wasn’t because I wanted to stare at Harry Styles’ face the whole time, it’s because I wanted to. I’m going to tell you why with minimal spoilers but it’s a world event so realistically you should know how it ends.
Dunkirk isn’t what you think it is. It’s not Saving Private Ryan. It’s not a narrative with extensive character development and an uplifting tale of overcoming adversity and being a hero. It’s not supposed to be the feel-good movie of the year. I know it seems like you’ll be following the struggle of the boys you saw in the trailer and how they survive Dunkirk, and you’ll be cheering for them while investing in their backstory. But that’s not the case. It’s actually as real as it gets for being a Hollywood depiction.
The sounds of bombs, gunshots, and planes are chilling and all-emcompassing; it takes everything in you to stay seated and not feel as if you need to take cover. The anxiety brought on by the silence mixed with a hurried violin in the score makes you anxious. You are forced to acknowledge the little chance for survival. The silence in the theater, the lack of breath or laughter. The small amount of dialogue makes it impossible to ignore the gravity of the situation because you have no other option but to be completely aware of your surroundings. It’s one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. The sheer scale of production and the coloring is more than enough to keep your eyes locked on the screen.
Dunkirk is divided into three parts, focusing on the land, the sea, and the air, all at a different place in time. These aspects all converge during the course of the movie, providing you multiple angles to understand how something happened and its effect on all aspects of the battle. Not going to lie, the first time I saw it it definitely took me a minute to follow the structure. The cutting back and forth is unlike most war-storytelling, however it seems as if it is the most efficient way to depict time without the help of a singular narrative.
Oh right, the narrative. No one in this movie really has a name. No one really reveals their backstory or how they got there, save for a select few towards the end of the film. They aren’t supposed to. The beauty of this film is that these characters could have been anyone. The soldiers weren’t fussed with learning about each other, they were focused solely on surviving at whatever cost. Most of us don’t know every single person in our military, and this isn’t any different. They are there to do their job, not tell stories of wives and girlfriends around a campfire.
In short, go see Dunkirk. Experience the film as it should be seen in 70 mm, and don’t expect to walk out raising a fist to the air in victory. Expect to feel exhausted, amazed, and shocked at the sheer amount of violence people can inflict on one another.