Harrowing, Inspiring, And Pertinent To Our Time: Dunkirk Is The Cinematic Masterpiece We Need

I finally was able to make it to the movies and watch Dunkirk – a film that I’ve been desperate to see since the first trailer was released. Christopher Nolan happens to be a favorite of mine, and I heard from many that this film in particular is one best seen on the big screen. Negative reviews did not deter me. And they should not deter you. I will begin this review by stating one unarguable truth: Dunkirk is more than just a cinematic masterpiece. It’s an immersive experience that relays the horrors of war, and the peace that was so hard-won. In other words, it is exactly the film we need right now.

Chris Nolan is a genius, both as a writer and a director. He is able to capture concepts and realities that are unimaginable to many of us. Which was why a war epic so intrigued me. I couldn’t imagine a director better suited to immersing the audience in history. And I have to say, after coming out of the theater, I felt stunned that these events took place in this world, not a hundred years ago.

 The dire reality of this film sinks in within the first few seconds. You’re filled with horror, shock, and an overwhelming sense of dread that you can’t seem to shake for the entirety of the movie. It will have you on the edge of your seat, jumping and gasping more than once. Even if you know what’s going to happen, seeing it is still shocking. But one of Nolan’s boldest decisions was his use of sound.

There were many moments I wished I were at home, in control of the volume. Many moments when I wanted to leave and actually ask them to lower the volume. Because the explosions, gunshots, even the sound of the waves were so unbelievably loud that if I didn’t know better, I would think they were actually there around me. You want to cover your ears, like many of the soldiers in the film do. You want to close your eyes to the horror, but you can’t. You can’t turn away for even a second. If you could, you wouldn’t even blink. As harrowing as many moments in this film are, you don’t want to miss a single second of it.

I heard very few negative reviews of this film, but those that I did all seemed to be along the same lines. One, that the film doesn’t have many characters of depth. And two, almost the entire cast, both main and supporting, is male.

Anyone who follows my work will know that I identify as a feminist. So, yes, I was worried when I heard the negative reviews. And the reviews are right – you will not see many female faces in this film. But truthfully, I was not offended by this. At all. Dunkirk, to my understanding, captured a very realistic version of the events that transpired. And, realistically, there wouldn’t have been a lot of women there. We see female nurses scattered throughout the film, and perhaps Nolan could’ve delved deeper into that. But quite frankly, it isn’t the characters that make this film so incredible. It’s what sets it apart from every other movie I’ve ever seen. Without detailed characters, Dunkirk still manages to be a great success.

There will definitely be characters in this film that you root for, characters that you grow attached to. There is no background information given on them, there are no flashbacks of their childhood. Truthfully, you don’t really know anyone in this film. You see them where they are, and who they are in that moment. You see the best and the worst. You see them afraid, you see them brave, often within seconds of each other, if not simultaneously. This film was aptly named. You witness the events of Dunkirk, and only the events of Dunkirk. And yet there isn’t a single scene that drags on too long. Each is as suspenseful as the last.

There isn’t much detail given in any of the characters, and it is a true testament to the talent of the actors involved. It’s a great and rare skill to bring a character to life so vibrantly, so realistically, and make the audience empathize with them, with almost no detail given. Some names and faces you will definitely recognize. Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy in particular deserve recognition. Others you may not recognize, such as Fionn Whitehead, who many could argue is one of the stars of the film. He makes an impression, and in many ways he acts as the audience’s eyes. Many of his traits, particularly his morality is identifiably relatable. And then of course you have someone who many recognize, though not for acting. Harry Styles gives an admirable performance. In fact, one that is surprising. Not because of how fantastic it is, I went in with high hopes. No, but because of the very nature of the performance. That’s all I’ll say without giving spoilers.

I never have experienced a war first-hand, a fact for which I am eternally grateful. And seeing this film, it makes you understand exactly what sacrifices were made for peace. But you look at our world today, horrors that are going on both in third and first world nations. I think Dunkirk is a very poignant reminder of the death and destruction that emerges from hatred. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye. This peace, which has been and is teetering, was hard-won. And that is a fact we, as a people, should not forget.

I’m not even going to pretend to have any critiques about Dunkirk. I thought it was a beautiful, harrowing, immersive masterpiece. You’ll leave feeling shocked, horrified, but also oddly inspired and hopeful. Dunkirk displays some of Nolan’s best work. Even if you don’t get to see it on the big screen, this is one that you do not want to miss.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sincerely, Fiction’s Mistress