Dunkirk is not a bad movie. I must begin with this lest I be ostracized online by vehement fans of Christopher Nolan who religiously spent their time ranking his movies and then arguing about said rankings. I myself am one of them and yet I made the mistake of going to see Nolan’s new directorial gift to men expecting to see a western war movie – as the trailer made it seem. I was disappointed. I should have known better.
Here’s another look at that intense trailer:
If the definition of the word movie is “moving images”, then yes, Dunkirk is very well-made. I found it to be exceptional in its poetic cinematic fluency and in how it depicted the highest expression of human conflict in ways that had not been seen before – muted and backgroundy. This is a clear deviation from regular Hollywood tropes that Nolan clearly does not want to fit in. Maybe we are still stuck in these said tropes and have not grown to appreciate gems like Dunkirk, however mellow.
It throws light on one of the world’s biggest military disasters that saw around 400,000 British and Allied troops surrounded at Dunkirk and with no way to get home. A fleet of civilian boats was hastily rounded up to evacuate these men and was successful. It’s a story worthy of being told and retold and speaks of the tenacity of our courage and strength even when the odds are against us. Yet despite its attempt at not falling behind tropes, it in not having included the two million Indians who fought in WW2, fell into the western trap of cultural ignorance and imperial blindness.
Despite the entanglement of pop-culture vines in Dunkirk – by this I’m talking about the inclusion of Harry Styles (whose music I’ve taken great care to not hear … too much), it did not get the hate that GOT did in having Ed Shereen. Though Harry did a surprisingly phenomenal role, at several occasions while watching the movie I was left to question the seriousness of it – whether it was real or not. Harry Styles stuck out like a thorn here and pulled me away from what without him could have been some impressive cinematography in a muted war film.
Dunkirk is not a war movie – at least not your classic war movie you have grown to expect – in how it has cleverly veiled away the intensity and nastiness of war. What it also draws behinds the background are women. The only woman I saw in the movie was that nurse who cheerily passed around bread and butter to wounded and exhausted male soldiers. Ten seconds. She was then very conveniently removed (torpedo-ed?). I understand that this war was primarily fought by brave men soldiers, but let’s not forget that women also played an integral part – in packing cargo that were to be dispatched to war zones, toiling in car factories now designed to make tanks, decoding encrypted Nazi signals, and in shepherding hope. But the movie, in how it is presented, the general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it screamed movie-made-by-men-for-the-enjoyment-of-men-only.
Dunkirk is not a bad movie. But it is certainly not a great one. It broke the mold of war movies and our own expectations and for this congratulations are in order and we are ever thankful to Christopher Nolan. Nestled between the high-highs and the low-lows of the war-movie genre sit Dunkirk: mundane, muted, and mellow.
A look at the cinematic brilliance of Dunkirk and how it was achieved:
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