My first thought as I watched Dunkirk was remembering Ian McEwan’s Atonement; both reading the book with its long war passages, and watching the devastation unfold on screen.
The pounding musical score by Hans Zimmer in Dunkirk isn’t what you would ever want to download and listen to (Do listen to the OST of Atonement by Dario Marianelli.) but it works for the movie, pumping it with urgency. And how the movie is shot adds to the tension so we are able to feel the rising panic and helplessness. Cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is outstanding.
Dunkirk was emotional for me. The movie has a beating heart. A war movie without any of the goriness but all the urgency thanks to the way it is shot which puts you in the thick of action, and that’s something that appealed to me. I don’t know how people found it cut and dry. Dialogue is sparse. There was pin drop silence in the hall. Everyone was listening intently and watching like a hawk so as not to miss anything because the narrative is such; we weren’t being told just shown. We don’t get a history lesson here. Nothing is explained. We get to see a dramatization of experiences of how the soldiers themselves might have experienced it.
Both for a war movie, and the cinematic flourish that Nolan usually brings, Dunkirk was understated and subtle.
I loved the patriotic spirit of the people, civilians who went out to rescue their people on being urged by their government, knowing fully well that they are undertaking a a huge risk.
Honour and bravery are all very well but it is survival that matters in the end. Survival by any means possible is what the movie focuses on. I chose to believe that survival in this case isn’t an act of cowardice because staying alive they will be more useful to their country’ the war was far from over.
Survival isn’t fair.
There’s no melodrama and some scenes are almost clinical in its brutality but no fuss is made about it. If anyone says it’s not engaging, it’s probably not their cup of tea. Even though the outcome is widely known we (those of us in the hall) were watching what was unfolding on screen with bated breath, till the credits rolled on.
When the movie ended there was applause. Clearly the audience was moved.
The thing is, I haven’t seen Memento. I am not what you would call a super fan but not entirely an objective observer either. I’m yet to understand Interstellar completely. I even got the book so that it would make sense to me.
I read Atonement eight year ago. A lifetime ago, really. What would I find on reading the book now? Only one way to find out.
Possible spoliers ahead
The father son duo and the quiet boy played by Barry Keoghan, who wanted to do something great and died trying and the pilot (Tom Hardy) who fought till the very end stayed with me. The role Lilian Murphy played, of a defeated soldier, was an interesting character with shades of grey. The admiral played by Kenneth Branagh, who stays rock solid and stays on to see everyone go off safely was inspiring. Not a hint of Professor Lockhart!
The soldiers were returning home in trepidation thinking they will be looked down upon because instead of saving they were the ones that had needed to be saved, no less by civilians, instead they were accorded a hero’s welcome.