Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan's film does not discount valour but celebrates war wisdom
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a war epic. But the audience is exposed to only one side of the war as there is no face of Germans in the film. There are only soldiers from the Allied front struggling to make Operation Dynamo a success.
Also, there is no bloodshed. Dunkirk manages to capture the intensity of war without bursting any soldier wide open. There are no hints of red in the battlefield.
Thirdly, there are no long inspiring speeches. If we personify this film, it would be a man of few words. It says little but conveys in abundance through its crisp editing, intricate detailing and succinct dialogue.
Thus, it is clear that Dunkirk does not swear by the template of war films. It stands out as a departure from what the viewers have witnessed on the cinematic landscape so far. In fact, there are four pertinent scenes which hint at the idea the movie possibly aims to get across - the futility of war.
Tommy turns his back towards war
In the establishing scene of the film, when Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead, is attacked by soldiers of the same side, it unnerves him. He does not intend to retaliate. He is merely seen hiding from the prying eyes of his would-be executors. Even after he signals them that he is British and they allow him to run away, his sprint screams desperation. From a valiant soldier, Tommy turns into a hopeful survivor. This opening scene probably sets the agenda for the rest of the narrative.
Bodies come back when the tide turns
After their first evacuation attempt is compromised, the British soldiers suspect that the tide is getting high. While it lends a sense of immediacy to the film, the subsequent dialogue speaks volumes of the collective fate of humanity in times of war. "How can you tell the tide is changing?" A soldier asks the other.
"The bodies. They come back," the other soldier says as the camera reveals lifeless bodies of dead soldiers floating towards the shore. The change of tide probably hints at the changing times as World War II gets brutal in the coming years. But the subsequent statement is a warning to the Allied soldiers that men from both sides will lose their lives irrespective of who waves the victory flag eventually.
The boy is good
When the character played by Cillian Murphy, the fallen air force pilot, enters into an altercation with Gibson and injures him, he keeps checking on him subsequently through Peter, played by Tom Glynn-Carney. While Gibson suffers major injury and eventually dies, Peter informs Murphy that the "boy is good", as his father Dawson nods in approval.
This particular exchange shows how Peter, having known the cost of war (his brother died fighting), does not seek vengeance and chooses to bury the hatchet right there. He answers the perennially pertinent question of 'To be or not to be' with a rare act of far-sighted wisdom.
We must fight on the landing grounds
While the line 'We must fight on the beaches' went on to headline the rousing speech of then-President of United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, the subsequent line holds more significance in terms of the larger point that the film tries to hammer home.
In the last scene of the film, as Churchill's speech echoes in the background and British soldiers are received with much fanfare by their fellow countrymen, the narrative seamlessly oscillates from that to Tom Hardy's character struggling for a smooth landing of his fighter plane.
Having fired down the enemy jet planes and ensured a successful large-scale evacuation of the army, Hardy's character of Farrier, a Royal Air Force pilot, smells danger as his jet does not cooperate for a smooth landing. However, with Churchill's inspiring words ringing in the background, Hardy elbows his jet with all his might and manages to escape the tragedy consequently.
In the final scene of the film, as the United Kingdom celebrates escape as a strategic move, Hardy watches his plane submitting itself to flames. It is a poignant parallel drawn to the dilemma of a soldier - the ever lasting tug of war between valiance and wisdom.
Dunkirk, in many ways, tilts towards the latter while not discounting the former. It is a film that does not put forward retreat as an option but upholds survival as a soldier's wisest resort in grave situations, considering the value that he can add to his country when it is needed the most.
All images from YouTube.