Dunkirk. It’s 1940. World War Two.
You’re surrounded by German soldiers, your only hope of escape is to sea. But there aren’t enough boats. Your comrades have been gunned down, killed or captured. Everyone is an enemy. Even the men that are supposed to be on your side, are suspicious. War has warped your mind. You’ve become distrustful, you’re terrified the next moment your eyes open will be the last time you see the sky.
You’re 18. Maybe younger, maybe older. You’ve barely lived and you’ve seen the worst of humanity. If you run, the world will see you as a coward. If you stay you’re brave. You don’t feel like either. You’re battered and bruised, hungry and thirsty. Dirt and blood cover your body. When you return home, if you return home, the operation will be called a “military disaster”.
Who comes to save you?
The film isn’t about winning. It isn’t about us vs them. It’s not about patriotic soldiers. No. It showcases, without having to show the bodies, the brutality of war. In comparison to other war epics, like Saving Private Ryan which is very close to the vein in its telling of war, we are not protected from the ghastly horrors of war, Dunkirk may not show the deaths in such graphic sequences, but the impact is just as powerful. Bodies drop. People are blown up. People disappear.
War is brutal. Death does not discriminate. It’s quick. The men standing next to you may be the last you ever see. You may never see the sun again. You may never eat again. Your best friend is shot or worse within seconds. The fast-paced nature of characters dropping and disappearing from the screen shows just how awful war is, without needing to see the bodies.
One minute they’re there and the next they’re not.
They don’t have time to mourn. They don’t have time to stop. As much as their hearts scream, their minds beg to help, they have to keep moving.
English soldiers turn on French soldiers. Survival is brutal. For Harry Styles’ character, Alex, who shows anger, fear, remorse, desperation, gratitude, survival is not fair. It’s not fair to sacrifice the few for the many to live. But that is what happens in the film. Many are lost, many are swept away in fire, water or gunfire. Some commit suicide. Some runaway.
For Fionn Wihtehead’s character, Tommy, survival is not about sacrificing those who help him. He was willing to side with a soldier who wouldn’t speak, revealed later to be French, Gibson, Aneurin Barnard’s character.
Each soldier has a different outlook, for Tom Hardy’s character, his main purpose was to take out enemy planes that attacked the soldiers on the ground, while his comrade, Officer Collins, played by Jack Lowden, has more of an emotional storyline, rescued by a father and son who take their civilian boat out, along with many others to rescue the soldiers at Dunkirk.
And for George, who dies at sea, is a young man, stuck in a place that he shouldn’t be in. Like many of these soldiers, for example Cillian Murphy’s character, war has shaken them to the bone. It is not what has been droned into their minds through propaganda. It’s horrible.
Then, home comes for them. When all other attempts failed, the people rallied and pushed themselves into a dangerous situation.