"mix of acute apprehension, impending danger, followed by suspicion and yet, a cautious optimism"
An energy-surge will find its way through your body as you watch Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a mix of acute apprehension, impending danger, followed by suspicion and yet, a cautious optimism. Dunkirk could by many, be interpreted as ‘an existential masterpiece,’ as Nolan plays on your senses in a way that they perhaps haven’t experienced before.
In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, where they then trapped Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Methodically British and French air and ground cover evacuated the troops, using every naval and civilian vessel possible. By the end of this honourable mission over 330,000 French, British, Belgian and Dutch soldiers had been collected.
As you inevitably pick up on the audience’s muffled baits of breath around you, you cannot help but let it consume you and take you on a united adventure; a special moment that no-one will ever be able to erase from your memory!
Dunkirk throws up the idea of meaning, of life, and all its delicacies, versus the meaninglessness of war. An existential masterpiece represented by three elements - earth, air, and water. These elements denote life, yet in Dunkirk, they could also bring about death, as each man awaited their judgement.
On land up to 400,000 soldiers were forced toward the sea, where destiny, whether it be from above, or behind them would be answered. The seemingly ever-expanding Big Blue is all they can see ahead of them, despite the homeland, England, being within their reach. Some decide to negotiate their way from boat to boat, to dilapidated barge, so desperate are they to evacuate this hellish beach, where torpedoes deceitfully linger, and missiles stream down from the sky. Only a miracle can help them now, it would seem.
Tom Hardy acts as a protector from the sky, where he can be predominately seen through a mask, conveying the symbolism of his eyes, in his determination to fight off every Luftwaffe, whatever the cost to his life may be.
On the water, Mark Rylance, has been commandeered a boat by the Navy, in order that he might help in the evacuation efforts. Nolan manages to precisely mould together story strands, rolling out each one as he sees fit, no matter how tightly wound up it did first appear.
The tension in the film is largely built on long silences, which in between are interspersed with Hoyte van Hoytema’s IMAX camera gliding across the skies, at the same time battling for space among the faces of men. Fine performances are made, with little dialogue but instead the characters’ state of mind shown, like Hardy’s, through their eyes.
Hans Zimmer’s moving score helps to enhance the silence, and questionably is a character all of its own, evoking with it an intensity, which simply refuses to give up.
No single character has been fleshed out but I believe this to have been the intention of the director, whose focus was not to lean towards a weighty back-story but bravery and empathy, where a great painting may become a mirror of the self. A hero can, after all, be anyone, and Dunkirk plays testimony to that.