Taken as a fictional recreation of the evacuation of the British Army from the beaches of Dunkirk, in France, from May 26 to June 4, 1940, Dunkirk allows us to imagine how it must have been for the people involved. We experience it from the beach at Dunkirk, on the sea in the large ships and little ships, and in the air from the cockpit of a Spitfire. We feel the tension: the boredom of waiting; the terror of being bombed; the dangers on the sea and in the air. We see how ordinary people were affected by the events. As an imagined sliver of time in that place, this is an amazing film. It does have the feeling of being a documentary. The direction could perhaps have been tightened up at times as it even felt a little boring. On the other hand, as has been said, war has its times of boredom. Without the music to convey tension, would Dunkirk have seemed a little dull?
If anyone in the audience needs an answer to the obvious question, "What was this all about?", the answer is in Wikipedia. The film does not attempt to even address that query. Nor does it mention that the 330,000 men evacuated were vital in winning the Second World War. Almost alone, Britain battled the threat of a German Nazi takeover which, it was believed, would have brought about the destruction of the free world. Those British and French soldiers were crucial in gaining victory. None of this is important to Dunkirk. Nolan is not an educator, he is an artist recreating reality. As a storyteller, he is following the stories of the smaller players in the war, not the larger issues of the leaders of the world conflict.
Born in 1970, Nolan is 47, and a Generation Xer (1965-1979). His viewpoint on the Second World War and Dunkirk seems different from earlier generations. Has he escaped the indoctrination of those generations in the ideology of the glory of war? The heroism of being loyal to one's country unto even death, is ignored. These ideas are necessary to countries who are aware that it may necessary to defend themselves against possible enemies. Perhaps younger generations who haven't experienced war, or a threat to their countries, don't even understand that thinking. It begs the question of how would they react to such threats? Roll over or run away!
Dunkirk is an interesting film, but if you are expecting an exciting war film, you will be disappointed. Moments that could have been emotional, are downplayed. My emotions were not affected at all, and I was left feeling disappointed that the history wasn't addressed. I didn't learn anything new, nor was reminded that Dunkirk was a great victory that was snatched out of defeat.
Even Sir Winston Churchill's motivational speech in Parliament to the country after Dunkirk, was downplayed. His emotional plea to the New World of the United States was read objectively by an actor, and we didn't hear Churchill's voice.
Here is the part that is remembered best by all those who heard it, and many who didn't.
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I for not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.The United States of America did "step forth". Without the States, the world would have become a very different place. If the ideals of freedom of the individual, the rule of Law, and the "government of the people, by the people, for the people", as extolled by Lincoln on the fields of Gettysburg, don't really mean anything, then perhaps the efforts of so many were in vain. Without the deeper understanding of what Dunkirk was all about, I almost got that feeling from Dunkirk.