Quick summary: Detailed, intriguing, edge of the seat
This contains spoilers… sorry!
The pre-conceived ideas I had of this film were that it was likely to be good and I was likely to enjoy it because 1) it was directed by Christopher Nolan, and 2) it is historical which is always a genre I enjoy. I expected it to be full of action, fast-paced, excellently shot, and I also thought that maybe the plot line might be a bit stagnant. Usually I find in war films that although I love the basis of the film and the history behind it, I find I can’t get invested in the plot line or the characters. Other things I knew about the film was that there was quite a young cast, perhaps to emulate the age of soldiers who actually were in Dunkirk; also, Christopher Nolan both wrote and directed the film, and so the cohesion between the writing and execution of the film was probably going to be excellent.
My initial reactions were that I loved it, and that the casting was great. It was thought-provoking and emotional, I was often on the edge of my seat, and the emotions invoked were very authentic to the horrors of the war. The music was a major highlight for me – there was a continuous ticking noise, much like a clock, throughout most of the major scenes, and this made me think of the feeling of time running out; the sound emphasised and intensified the panic and hysteria present in such dramatic situations as those in Dunkirk. The plot was nowhere near as stagnant as I thought it would be, and in reality was complex and fast-paced. The characters were well developed and you were invested in whether they survived or not; it was this interaction between the audience and the story which, for me, elevates it above other war films I have watched.
Other key aspects that impacted me as I watched the film and as I came away were mostly to do with subtleties that had been implanted which actually contributed massively to the overall effect of the film:
- The youth of the actors added to the authenticity of the experience because you could really imagine people that age in situations that were being portrayed on the screen. This almost made it more harrowing because the fact that some soldiers were barely adults makes their deaths seem even sadder.
- The aesthetic of the actors was also interesting – the majority of the soldiers on Dunkirk beach had dark hair. This mass of dark haired young men made them all look like carbon copies of each other; this emphasised that lack of individuality that war creates. We did not know who all of the characters were, just as we do not know who all of the men that died in WW1 and WW2 were.
- Having said this, there was something profoundly human within all of the characters. We see two examples of this – one where Peter (played by Tom Glynn-Carney) lies to Cillian Murphy’s character about the death of George (Barry Keoghan), and the second where Alex (Harry Styles) gestures a helping hand to the man he had just called a German spy in the previous scene. These two examples of a glimmer of humanity shows those watching the film the saddening truth that this was young boys fighting against the loss of humanity.
Overall, I loved this film because it was complex and interesting, and emotional; it was sad because it highlighted that everyone was impacted, and no-one could escape the horror of war (George is an example of this.) In fact, George as a character was a microcosm of a generation of boys eager to join the war effort and who paid with their lives. Ultimately, it was the juxtaposition of hope for an end and survival with the hopelessness of fighting against a seemingly relentless enemy in a quintessentially human struggle for survival that made this film so touching, poignant and so damn good!