I’m not going to start this review as usual. No rhetorical question to lead you as the reader, to question my opinion about the film. Neither an attempt of a cliffhanger nor initiated doubt as to whether this film is recommended or not. Because of Nolan. And that is more than enough to tell you that it is not to be missed.
Dunkirk. 1940. Approximately 400 000 allied soldiers are pushed back to the beach and are put in chess mate by more than double a number of German troops. They are waiting for extraction, but it seems less likely to make it off the beach alive than it is to stay alive and avoid attack at sea. Attempting to keep the periphery of the defensive line as strong and unpenetrable as the Allies could, the troops make peace with their fate while clinging on to the last bit of hope that once again arose as soon as the first civilian boats arrived from England, to initiate extraction.
As always, the above paragraph about the statistics of war was probably read with the cold unpersonal voice in one’s head when any piece of history is read. The same voice I use when reading the news or a wikipedia article. It isn’t the voice I spare for novels, nor do I give it the emotive authority I lend to the narative of a film, and that is exactly why Dunkirk is such a masterpiece. It demands to be experienced. It doesn’t wait for you to invest in the characters. It doesn’t sweet talk or flatters you. It rips open the wound that is war and lets those who are fortunate enough never to have experienced it, get a hint of the emotional wreckage and physical trauma it evokes. This could, in my opinion, only be achived by filmmakers with the same commitment to the art as director Christopher Nolan has.
Every single aspect of the film contributes to the journey and elevation of the story. Enforced by the long standing relationship Nolan has with composer Hans Zimmer, the extream desperation and fatigued souls of the soldiers are superimposed with the audience’s to leave a lasting impression. It is astonishing how every single aspect of Dunkirk was meticulously orchestrated to contribute to the overall success of a film, something I last experienced when watching The Imitation Game. Everything from costume design and makeup to the commitment of cinematographers and actors was painstakingly perfect in every sense of its being. Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) especially has the ability to morph into different characters and ennoble the art of acting, which must’ve inspired co-stars Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles to impress.
As a final note on the evoked thought that resulted from this film, I would like to thank the custodians of the front, as well as those who took any measure of bravery, whether it be as enlisting or as hugging a family member goodbye because of their enlistment – especially during the World Wars in which so many South Africans too fought. I have never had to worry about a loved one, nor fret about my freedom and I know how fortunate I am. All I want you to know is that your impact is greater that you will ever let yourself realise. And thank you to the filmmakers and producers that take on these project not because they want to make a film packed with action and explosions, but because there are so many unpopular stories that should be told about war. All wars. All battles. All fronts.
Dunkirk is everything one would hope it to be.
But it is so much more too.
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