Dunkirk (2017): Winning at The Losers End

Warning: this is a movie review written by a blogger who happened to like history, especially on World War II. So, expect some spoilers here. Heck, there are many books tell the story about Dunkirk already, it is a movie about a history anyway, a real one, not an alternate one. Bear with it. Lol.


One of the best feeling when you watch a movie based on factual history is that you know how it ends. When you watch Letters from Downfall/Der Untergang (Hirschbiegel, 2004) you won’t be expecting Hitler won the war, and ultimately rule the world, right ? It is the same here.

I’ll explain a little bit about the background of the movie itself, since the background is only implied shortly on the movie. The title, Dunkirk refer to a place when one of the most amazing evacuation ever recorded in the history of mankind. Dunkirk or Dunkerque in French, is a region located in North French, it is the place when the British, Canadian, Belgian, and French Soldier are being evacuated to the coast of England. What makes this evacuation amazing is the fact that they did evacuate around 400,000 soldiers in 9 days using not only military ships, but also civillian ships. I think this is what the Indonesian New Order called about SISHANKAMRATA (Sistem Pertahanan dan Keamanan Rakyat Semesta/People’s Universal Defense and Security System), lol.

I’ll be extracting P. K. Ojong’s view from Perang Eropa I (2002) on Dunkirk in this paragraph. In the first half of World War II’s European theater, German troops easily breach through French’s defense with heavy tanks through the amazing commands from Henk Guderian, German’s Panzer Unit Legend. Their strategy on attacking French is a surprise Blitzkrieg through the Ardennes, unprotected by the Maginot Line which ended up as a Pincer Formation as the German are also attacking through Belgiuma and Netherland. Long story short, the Allies which include the British, Canadian, and Belgian army are surrounded and pushed back to Dunkirk beaches.

This is where the story start in Dunkirk (2017). It is narrated by three different views, the land that covers a week time of the Dunkirk war, the sea that covers one day, and the air that covers one hour. These line are non-linear, but at some points, the crossed with each other. In the land, the story is narrated from a surviving British soldier, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), who is desperately trying to escape Dunkirk in any way possible. In the sea, story is narrated from a group of British civillian Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney), Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), and George (Barry Keoghan) who are a part of a recreational boat called “The Moonshine” which embark in a mission to transfer escaping soldiers in Dunkirk to Dover England. While in the air, is narrated from Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) a pair of British Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot which is a part of a Spitfire squadron.

Each of these people are sharing their own horrors along the Dunkirk throughout the English Channel up until Dover. All of them have to face a part of German superiority during the first half of the European theater in World War II. Tommy have to face the bombardment of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) while “competing” with his fellow British soldier to be the first to escape, while Peter, Mr. Dawson, and George have to go through a conflict with a shellshocked soldier saved by them at the sea while saving armies from a drowning warships under a Heinkel bombardment, and the RAF have to provide an aerial cover for the evacuation. Can you imagine the intensity ? You might not now, but don’t worry, Christoper Nolan will help you to feel so.

Nolan is a genius. No doubt about that. We can see in his earlier works, the Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012), The Prestige (2006), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014). Along with his tandem, Hans Zimmer, he can draw the audience into the movie itself. Well, this time, it is a war movie. A war movie throughout the eyes of the loser, where escape is the way to win. With his amazing cinematography, minimalist dialogues, and delicate timing of the background music, it creates a great atmosphere. I indulge it happily. There are some parts that made me cover my ears, held my breath as if I am a claustrophobic or in fear of drowning, acts up as I am a Spitfire pilot, and I even cried a little bit during some dramatic scenes.

The scenes feels real. It really maximize the dolby technology. The sound of bullet hitting the boat’s steel wall, or the psychological terror of German warplane which deliberately installed with a mechanism that allows them to give a squeling sounds as it get close to the ground, and even the sound of torpedo that silently hitting the boat. The minimum dialogue helps to set up the intensity of the scenes, it makes you focus on the whole scene –the sets, the people, the surrounding, rather than to the actors themselvs. It simply drags you into the movie.

If you ask me about the actors, I don’t know most of them. Honestly, I only recognize Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy. Also Barry Keoghan for looking like Ezra Miller (LOOOLLL). But, I give all of them two thumbs up. All of them are equally great. Even the One Direction guy (which pointed out in the end by my wife), Harry Styles.

If there is anything bad to say about this movie, it lacks of bonds with the characters. The intensity of the movie, is traded with the character bonding. You know, sometimes, after watching a movie, you feel like you want to be in the movie, let’s say, after watching Inception, you want to be the part of the group that dives in into people’s dream. You want to be friend with them. Not with this one though.

I don’t know how to compare this with any other war movie or any other Nolan’s movie. This is the first time I feel something like this. It is almost like watching a perfect horror movie, without the traumatic aftermath. It is a technical masterpiece from Nolan, and I give it a solid 9 out of 10.


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