I hate war movies. A lot. I think the only one I’ve been able to sit through was Fury, and that was only because my anger distracted from the horror and upset. Call me crazy, but watching a recreation of wars where countless numbers of men died horrific and often needless deaths just isn’t my cup of tea.
It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic when Alex suggested we go and see Dunkirk at the movies. Seeing as it was being pretty heavily billed as a war movie, even if it was directed by Christopher Nolan, I was almost certain I was going to spend the whole time miserable.
I was incredibly surprised.
I thoroughly enjoyed Dunkirk. It was everything a war movie should be – visceral, uncomfortable, thought provoking, shocking. It didn’t shy away from the horrors of war, nor from the inherently selfish instinct for survival. But it did so in such a clever way, blending Nolan’s flare for movie making with Hans Zimmer’s ability to write a powerful and appropriate soundtrack. Rather than relying on gore and violence to portray its message, Dunkirk used silence. There is very little dialogue, particularly in the first scenes of the film, and the souundtrack is definitely more atmospheric than musical. To me, the combination of the two was far more effective in providing an atmosphere of foreboding and horror than excessive violence would have been. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a violent film (it’s about war after all), but the way it’s handled is so artistic, so minimalistic, that it becomes almost secondary to the unknown of silence, disjointed timelines, and scenes of just how dire the situation on the beaches really was.
It’s definitely not a movie for everyone. Lots of people have already voiced their criticisms – it’s too white/male centric being the most predominant one – which I can understand, but firmly disagree with. No, Dunkirk didn’t tell the stories of the colonial troops, or the women of the war, but that doesn’t make the story it tells any less important. Nor was it, to me at least, some sort of masculine celebration of the glory of war. In fact, one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much was how successfully it protrayed the futility of war, and both the bravery and the selfishness that came out of such desperate horror. Some have criticised the casting of Harry Styles as distracting due to his celebrity status, but I actually thought he did a remarkably good job in his role. Yes, he is recognisable, but so is Sir Kenneth Branagh and no one complained about his involvement.
Basically, I’d really recommend Dunkirk. It’s brutal, it’s uncomfortable, it’s depressing. But it’s also beautiful, and touching, and the stories it tells are too important to be ignored. It was, in a word, surprising, and I’m really glad Alex convinced me to go and see it.