DUNKIRK is a breathtaking spectacle that commemorates the insurmountable strength of camaraderie
Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is not so much a war film as it is a testament to human resilience and the invisible bonds that unite people during life’s darkest hours. With a touch of care and cadence, the film proves to be perhaps the most engrossing and heartfelt portrayal of mortal suffering and endurance in the entire history of film.
It is no coincidence that Nolan’s film plays out before audiences in time to the steady ticking of a clock, which is beautifully conveyed by Hans Zimmer’s phenomenal musical score. Zimmer’s brilliant addition acts as a reminder of the war that was constantly being waged against the clock, with Time as fierce an enemy as the menacing German military that pushed both British and French forces to the grey, windswept beaches of Dunkirk. With this in mind, Nolan uses this particular element to his advantage in illustrating the various factions within the British military, dividing the air, land and sea forces into different time placements, like various battalions stationed on a grid, waiting for their moment to achieve a unanimous victory.
Nolan flaunts his directing skills in all aspects of his film, perfecting its cinematography without neglecting its cast. Truly, each cast member proves his own acting chops from beginning to end, leaving no space in between traumatic scenes for weak, ineffectual performances. The film is artfully sustained by a powerful leading performance from newcomer Fionn Whitehead as the film’s protagonist, Tommy, as well as by strong supporting roles from Aneurin Barnard, Harry Styles and Mark Rylance, to name a few. In truth, every actor involved in the film is deserving of recognition, as each one plays a vital role in making Nolan’s masterpiece as convincing and immersive as possible.
In a poignant scene involving Barnard’s character, Gibson, we see the film’s emotional crux fully reveal itself. With fearful, searching eyes, Barnard’s shaken soldier sits alone and scans the darkened horizon, which is punctuated with sporadic bursts of distant fighting, before slowly resting his head against the side of the ship. It is at this moment that he pays witness to an approaching torpedo, which ultimately overturns the ship full of soldiers into the pitch-black waters of the sea. This scene involving Gibson brims with so much importance and may possibly go unnoticed in comparison to the rest of the film’s more intense sequences. But despite the uncanny realism and suspense involved in the air and sea fighting sequences, Barnard’s convincing bout with fear and exhaustion offers an incredibly close look at the price each man paid in the fight for freedom.
Perhaps the film’s heaviest emotional element rests in its depiction of the civilian efforts that made Operation Dynamo a miraculous success. Mark Rylance’s role as a caring civilian named Mr. Dawson who sets sail in his personal vessel towards Dunkirk sets the stage for Nolan’s depiction of civilian bravery, and its emotional resonance is rounded out by the addition of his young son, Peter, played by Tom Glynn-Carney, and the curious, brave boy named George, portrayed by Barry Keoghan. All three actors provide a profound element of level-headedness that makes their journey into the throes of warfare notably convincing.
While it may be easy to focus on one particular aspect of Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” its overarching theme remains the strongest element of this phenomenal film. Unlike other films of the same genre, Nolan’s defines one of the Second World War’s most daring and unbelievable feats as a moment in history when both body and spirit were tested by the strain of imminent defeat. Hope resonates throughout the film, with men of high rank gazing towards the horizon in search of “home” before recognizing it in their fellow soldiers. Nolan’s depiction of one of history’s greatest rescue missions carries with it the mark of tears rather than blood, rendering its impact far more powerful than any blood-splattered battle scene could ever possess. At the film’s end, our attention turns not towards one specific faction that made the mission possible, but to the unbeatable spirit of the men as a whole. It is for this reason that it feels possible and almost dutiful to clink our glasses with Styles’s and Whitehead’s battle-worn soldiers at the film’s end, as the two young men join others on their way homeward and we, many years onward, celebrate the strength of camaraderie and hope as it is immortalized in Nolan’s film.