Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk treats the miracle of the 1940 evacuation with a refreshing solemnity. Nolan chooses progression of time rather than exchange of words as his medium of communication, but even that time is warped as the plotlines transition between land, sea, and air, each frame lasting the space of a week, a day, and an hour, respectively. Minimal, deliberately stilted dialogue leaves us looking to men’s faces to read their emotion as the camera lens offers both a sweeping bird’s eye view of the beach and tight shots that hone in on one or more individuals. As an experience, it is entirely immersive: we plunge with Spitfire fighter-pilots (played to stalwart perfection by Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden), we cower with the army on the beach as German dive bombers soar overhead, and in the moments of calm when all is noxiously still, we wait. The sleight-of-hand that Nolan employs between temporal frames, leaping from past to future and back again, ultimately forces us to look at the present and the person before us.
It is for this reason that our knowledge of the end of Operation Dynamo does not hinder us from leaning forward, even whispering prayers, as each fraught minute passes. Even if we’ve heard many times the words of Churchill that “wars are not won by evacuations,” we still partake by proxy in his staunch British patriotism as if it were expressing itself for the first time and proclaim, “We shall go on to the end.” Therein lies the beauty of Nolan’s Dunkirk. Like the watch’s ticking that beats incessantly underneath Zimmer’s score, the film itself pulses with the immediate weight of each human life. Where war films often sacrifice men, Dunkirk sanctifies them, presenting both the loss of one life and the preservation of 300,000 as something intensely personal. Nolan’s portrayal of the famous evacuation is both reverent and stirring: a true piece of art.
Chloe Kookogey is a junior studying English.