Everytime there’s a film I really want to see, I make sure not read any reviews because I want to go to the screening with an open mind, not affected by opinions of anyone else. I tend to read just te headlines of the reviews which in many cases are unavoidable and which give me quite a good idea of whether the critics love it or not. But no specifics.
So, yes, I knew Dunkirk is supposed to be epic and one of the best films ever. However, I didn’t quite know where its true qualities lie. I mean, it’s Christopher Nolan’s film, which is good enough for me.
I have a huge respect and admiration for the genius of Christopher Nolan. Several of his films are my all time favorites and in my opinion can hardly ever be surpassed. Like Inception, The Dark Knight (on which I wrote my final thesis) or Memento. I love them all.
Nolan is also the only director that would make me go see a film which is out of my favorite genre. Yes, I’m not a fan of sci-fi, but I did go to see Interstellar without hesitation and wasn’t let down by it. In fact, until this day, it’s been my most intense cinema experience – but so emotionally exhausting, I didn’t make myself to watch it again ever since. And Dunkirk does share this one quality with Interstellar.
When I got to the cinema and the film started, for the first twenty minutes, I’ve been asking myself ‘what the hell was I thinking? why am I even doing this to myself?’
It was so hard for me to watch, and if it wasn’t a Nolan film, I might as well give up on it. But please don’t get me wrong – the reason behind that was far from the film actually being bad.
If you asked me to go see any other war movie these days, I would decline your generous offer, not because I don’t like war films, I do, but because I’m simply not in mood for them lately. I know too well, they would just not make me much good. However, Christopher Nolan movie is always a different case. That’s a must. I didn’t even think about not going to see it for a second. I was expecting nothing less than another masterpiece. War movie or not.
And in this sense, I cannot say it has disappointed. I mean Dunkirk is an excellent movie, and pretty much one of its kind. Forget all the other war movies, with tons of drastic, bloody scenes with different body parts flowing through the air and soldiers screaming in pain.
What Nolan has created here is something completely different. While I usually can’t make myself watch the type of scenes described above because they make me physically sick, all I need to do is to simply look elsewhere for a bit. But how do you escape a psychological terror?
The horror of the hopeless attempts to get away from Dunkirk where the soldiers have been trapped… that feeling of being trapped somewhere from where you can’t escape no matter how hard you try… no matter how many good solutions you find and no matter how many times you try…. that’s just something I have nightmares about.
In this sense, the film is extremely claustrophobic. And the intense hunting score makes it even more so. The hopelessness of every rescue action which ends as a failure.. the self-preservation instincts that make the soldiers keep on trying to get away, just going from one hopeless attempt to another.. I just couldn’t bare to watch it.
Dunkirk is tough. It’s beautiful, but it’s so so tough.
The beautiful cinematography (an equally epic Joe Wright’s Atonement beach scene comes to mind!) so typical for all Nolan’s movies is at its best here. Every shot is a piece of art. The storytelling so different from anything you’ve seen before.. it all makes the film exquisite and hard to forget.
Dunkirk doesn’t really have any heroes. There’s no lead character whose story you’re gonna follow and for whom you’re gonna root. And no, you’re not gonna learn anything about any of the soldiers in the film apart from their nationalities. No backstories. Nothing.
You’re simply gonna be watching some soldiers without names and without a past, trying to save their lives in any way they can. Just as so many war heroes became nameless and whose stories were never told and never known. Just the authentic experience of war and the fight for survival.
You don’t even get any big stars here. Yes, there is Tom Hardy but you don’t get to see his face until the very last scene. And yes, there is Harry Styles, the One Direction heart-throb, but honestly, is it just me or is he somewhat unrecognizable?! (it just didn’t click for me until the train scene). Which might as well be a very good proof of his actual acting abilities (I’m impressed!).
And then there’s the great Kenneth Branagh. I love Kenneth Branagh. But honestly, he’s not exactly the type of star that would take everybody’s attention for just his persona. Quite the contrary, his presence is just another guarantee that what you’re watching is a serious movie. (And yes, he’s amazing as always!)
In acting. In cinematography. In directing. In music. Simply in the film art – this film is without a flaw. It’s a celebration of the filmmaking. It’s not about stars, it’s not about being ‘pretty’.
It’s a quiet homage to so many lost lives in the war, without trying to make it look heroic in the hollywood way. It’s a plain fight for survival. It’s a tribute to the common soldier.
And were these soldiers, ‘who did nothing else but escape’ heroes? You bet they were.
You will find a completely new respect for any soldier fighting for our freedom.
Dunkirk will also remind you how unfair and pointless all the wars are. How the true heroes, who save so many, are the ones who pay the highest price. All the while killing enemies who are in fact just as them listening to orders and trying to save their lives by killing the other one first. Their lives are the same as their opponents’. Their desire to live is the same as their opponents’. They were just not so lucky today.
Go and see Dunkirk if you want to get a sense of what it’s like to be in a war. What it truly feels like to be trapped without much more than a faint chance for escape. What it’s like to be fighting for your life every second unsure of where the next shot will come from.
Go and see Dunkirk if you want to see a real bravery of the common people who do not hesitate to risk their own lives and come help their soldiers. These people are the heroes, too.
And go and see Dunkirk to get a lesson about how we all should come together, forget our differences and unite. Nationality doesn’t make us different. We are all humans. That’s the only thing that matters. Can’t we all just learn from the past mistakes?! And when else do we need to be reminded than now..
BUT… do not go to see this film if you’re emotionally vulnarable or simply not at your best. Seriously. This film is tough. It’s beautiful, but it will not make you feel ecscatic just for its filmmaking beauty. It’s way too tough for that this time. Although… it ends with hope. Hope for humanity. And I like that.
In any case, go and see it with an open mind. Because this is not your typical story.
Is this finally gonna be an Oscar for Christopher Nolan? I certainly hope so.
Oh, and by the way, it’s Christopher’s birthday today! So… Happy Birthday, Master! I bow to you as always. Here’s to many more wonderful movies! We can’t wait. (And yes, we want that Bond movie, too).