22 July 2017

'Dunkirk': Review

Review of 'Dunkirk':

Q: What is war?
A) Heroism, bravery, courage, nobility, sacrifice
B) Violence, chaos, madness, insanity, meaninglessness

So there are 2 types of war movies:
1. Movies that say A
Example: Saving Private Ryan, Enemy At The Gates, Letters From Iwo Jima, etc
2. Movies that say B
Example: Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, etc

The answer to question Q depends on the war. If the war is good/just/righteous (like World War 2) then the answer is A. If the war is bad/unjust/unrighteous (like Vietnam War) then the answer is B. It is not a coincidence that most World War 2 movies are type-A movies and most Vietnam War movies are type-B movies.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, Thin Red Line is a type-B movie about World War 2 and We Were Soldiers is a type-A movie about Vietnam War. Even more fundamentally, there are exceptions to this crude classification itself. Black Hawk Down (Somalian War) is a type-AB movie that brilliantly combines both answers A and B. Hurt Locker (Iraq War) is a type-O movie that says neither A nor B, but simply shows war in a clinical, documentary-like style.

All this brings us to Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk. Which type of movie is it? It is a World War 2 movie – so we would expect it to be a type-A movie. But Nolan made the Dark Knight trilogy – so it could be a type-B movie. However, Nolan never plays by the rules of the game. He plays by his own rules. So to the question Q, he gives another answer:
C) Death, fear, pain, desperation, hopelessness

In 1940 the German Army rolled through Europe, crushing all the European countries one by one. By May, the British Army was trapped on the coast of France. 4 lakh soldiers were pinned between the sea and the German Army in a town called Dunkirk, facing certain annihilation. Then the British Navy – with the help of civilians – carried out a massive rescue operation. Over 10 days, around 1000 boats and ships took 3.5 lakh soldiers to Britain and safety.

Nolan tells the story with his trademark clockwork precision. Like a chess player arranging pieces on a chessboard, he shows us all the 3 scenes of the war: land, sea and air. His script combines seamlessly with Hoyte van Hoytema's camerawork and Hans Zimmer's background music. Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and the other actors play their roles competently.

Dunkirk is not a conventional war movie. Firstly, (as explained above) it is neither a type-A nor type-B movie – but a type-C movie. Secondly, it is not a 'battle movie'. It is a 'retreat movie'. So there are no 'battle scenes' as such. Anyway, critics have gone gaga over it: "Nolan's greatest movie", "greatest war movie", etc. Don't listen to them. Just watch Dunkirk with an open mind – and form your own opinion about it.

PS: 2000 Indian soldiers were involved in Dunkirk. 1500 of them were rescued. The remaining 500 were captured by the Germans and died in the POW camps.

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