Defending Dunkirk: Rejecting Some Of The Critiscism

A movie that scores 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, takes over $200 million in the box office and is widely acclaimed as one of the best war movies ever made probably doesn't need that much defending. However, some of the criticism lazily lobbed at Dunkirk was so offensively inane that you just can't help yourself from mocking it. Mercilessly.

'There's no hiding from this, son'
Mild spoilers ahead, nothing too shocking, but, don't say I didn't warn you. Let's dive, Stuka like, right in.

Where are the French?

Tricky enough one to start, as personally I'm a little on the fence on this one. The fact of the matter is the French put up a rousing rearguard in and around the streets of Dunkirk itself, but most importantly the French First Army fought off a massive German assault at Lille for several days, without which not a single member of the BEF might have got off the beach of Dunkirk at all. The French covered themselves in glory in Lille in particular, a heroic rearguard that hasn't received its due in Western historical analysis.

In fairness to the critics on this point, the French don't really get much praise here either, depending how up in arms you are about the topic. Contextually I can understand a French historian being a little miffed to say the least at how little coverage the French get. However, a couple of points to ponder.

First of all, the French defense at Lille literally needs its own movie. It would have been silly for Christopher Nolan to try and amalgamate the French rearguard action, outside the city and at Lille, into his movie about the, largely, British escape. Dunkirk as a movie would have been diluted beyond recognition. Nolan wanted to make a taut escape movie, which is exactly what he did. He wasn't making a documentary, he wasn't making a mass ensemble piece similar to 'The Longest Day', he was making something different, and that's his choice as an artist.

One final point on this, Nolan did offer one slice of French admiration right at the start of Dunkirk. As our protagonist of the movie escapes from pursuing German infantry (Nolan's choice to never really reveal the enemy, ala Jaws, was genius), a grizzled, stoic French defender helps him over a barricade. As he does, he delivers one of the cooler lines in the movie; 'Allez Anglais, Bon Voyage!' as he turns to face the oncoming Wehrmacht. It's a splendid little moment, dripping with history and homage to the French soldiers that, backs to the beaches, held the Germans at bay.

Sure, it was a few seconds, but it was brilliantly delivered, and do you want a 3 hour 50 minute movie, or this slice of drama that Nolan unveiled in a svelte 1:45?

It wasn't gory enough.

This one, for me, is more of a comment on where we're at as a society right now than anything else. We're immune to violence, at this point. We've seen limbs blown off in Saving Private Ryan, we've seen all sorts of horror and macabre violent acts in Fury, Inglorious Bastards and Braveheart, to name but a few.

When people say to me 'It wasn't gory enough' I feel like slapping them in the face and asking; 'What is wrong with you, man?!' Dunkirk may not show the inner workings of the human body after a gunshot wound, but it has more than its fair share of tragedy and pain. If the thought of being crushed by a sinking ship as it slams up against a dock isn't scary or gory enough for you, well then you my friend are completely desensitized at this point. There were plenty of terrible deaths in Dunkirk, and Nolan makes it perfectly clear how terrifying it must have been for teenage Tommys to have been there, without throwing limbs around the place like Mel Gibson after a couple of pre-shoot drinks.

There wasn't enough stuff!

There are a few who think that more stuff equals quality. Erroneous. You can have all the CGI in the World and end up with garbage like Avatar or The Phantom Menace. Yes, Dunkirk, the historical event, was a sprawling mess, with ships sinking left, right and center, and thousands of soldiers pouring onto the beach, but Nolan made his choice, he wanted reality and he skipped CGI almost completely to achieve this. So, you can have your CGI if you want, I'll take the real people in their thousands lined on the beach, I'll take the real ships (actual French and British warships) and perhaps most of all, I'll take the real Spitfires and Messerschmidts they used in filming.

We may never see anything as cool as those Spitfires blazing across the screen again. From Nolan's genius use of sound, to the lovingly restored craft and the incredible cinematography, the ariel duels of Dunkirk may never be repeated again.

You want waves of CGI items crashing around the screen? Knock yourself out, go watch the Separatist army in Phantom Menace on loop for the rest of your life, whatever.

There weren't enough women in it.

Okay, we're getting into stupid territory now. There were very few women at Dunkirk, in fact, probably only a handful on the bigger ships, and Nolan went out of his way not only to show those brave ladies, but to give them a few lines also. Nolan literally went above and beyond to ensure those handful of brave British ladies attached to the Navy were clearly defined as present and accounted for. If anything, he might have overdone it slightly, considering all proportions.

It wasn't emotional enough.

Sorry pal, can't help you here. If you didn't feel soaring emotions during several of the latter scenes of Dunkirk, well, you're dead inside and you may as well give up on movies at this point. Sorry, not sorry.

I honestly wouldn't know where to start with the number of incredibly emotional scenes. Sure, Nolan doesn't pander to the Peanut Gallery with false jingoism and nationalistic fervor, but he subtly delivers some of the best 'Phew' moments in modern cinema, including a couple that make you want to punch the air in jubilation.

If you thought it wasn't emotional, well, you shouldn't have had your head buried in your mobile, flicking through the social networks and lazily allowing your notifications to distract you. Yeah, there, I said it.

'You want emotion? I'll give you emotion!'

It wasn't real.

Okay, you got me, this wasn't something a movie critic said, but I did hear stories from a source I trust about someone coming out from Dunkirk and asking; 'So, was that real? Did it really happen?'

Oh boy.