Dunkirk (2017)
July 21, 2017 9:49 AM - Subscribe

Miraculous evacuation of Allied soldiers from Belgium, Britain, Canada, and France, who were cut off and surrounded by the German army from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France, between May 26- June 04, 1940, during Battle of France in World War II.

Currently at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Critic Consensus:

Dunkirk serves up emotionally satisfying spectacle, delivered by a writer-director in full command of his craft and brought to life by a gifted ensemble cast that honors the fact-based story.
posted by doctornecessiter (38 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoyed this. The pacing was just fantastic. I have to say though, and I'm going to get vague here to avoid too many spoilers this early: one obvious attempt at a big emotional moment near the end didn't actually do much for me, but a much smaller one just a little later made me choke up. (Since it's early still I'll save those details for later downthread).

My main takeaway in terms of Nolan's filmography was: I guess he'll take any opportunity to play around with the passage of time in presenting a narrative. I hadn't expected there to be that kind of element in a movie like this, but I thought the "one week / one day / one hour" thing mostly played well. I'm anticipating a lot of people's breakdowns of how well it actually worked showing up online (including right here) soon...
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:03 AM on July 21, 2017

[spoiler warning]

It was satisfying on a basic level, and well worth seeing, though some of the stories were awfully predictable, the bad end for the young kid & the fuel gauge hanging over the fireplace in the first act. Saw it on an Imax screen and no scene in it was as sweeping and grand as Joe Wright's Dunkirk in Atonement. It was a curious choice not to show any German soldiers on screen until the end. The scenes of gunfire at the beginning and the howling of the diving Stukas were really terrifying and real.
posted by Bee'sWing at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2017

Just got back from a 70mm showing and not quite ready to process the experience but it's a pretty astounding achievement. I'm not really a Nolan fanboy, most of his movies aggravate me as much as they impress me but I'm all in on this one. So glad that I saw it as a film projection, the colors were just so gorgeous.
posted by octothorpe at 6:38 PM on July 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

I just read that Nolan watched a lot of silent films in preparation for this and I'm not surprised. There's very little dialog for much of the runtime and most of the storytelling is done visually. The camerawork and editing has a much more classical feel to it than most of his films which usually have pretty choppy and disorienting action sequences. The camera is often pretty static with long enough takes to let you see what's going on.
posted by octothorpe at 7:59 AM on July 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wow, just come out of a 35mm showing and gobsmacked. The pacing, the construction, the music. Couldn't believe it was over, I thought when they cut back to branagh on the mole that was the start of the second half but apparently we'd had our two hours already. Feel compelled to watch again, can't wait for the cuts playing with the timeline. See this now, a great movie.
posted by biffa at 10:43 AM on July 22, 2017

Agree with pretty much all of the above. My two strongest reactions were that I'd sort of wished it had dispensed with dialog entirely, and that The music was both spare and perfectly in tune with the visuals. I was particularly affected by the use of the single violin just repeatedly scraping out single notes as the tension in a particular scene built. I've never before been so aware of the affect that a single instrument and player can have on my viewing experience. A brilliant movie.
posted by hwestiii at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Do we have to give spoiler warnings? I didn't think anyone would be in the thread if they hadn't seen it, but if not...

[spoiler warning]

A question: I read a review that said the young soldier and the French soldier carried the dead guy on the stretcher, pretending he was only injured to get on the ship. Was that the case? I thought they saw someone injured and realized they could get on the ship, with the sad outcome being that they doomed him because he was left on the ship when it sank. Which is correct?

Besides that, fantastic experience. I saw it in IMAX 2D and it was glorious, with fantastic sound design. I wish there was a 70mm print near me so I could see it again and compare.
posted by bluecore at 7:18 PM on July 23, 2017

My interpretation of the scene with the stretcher was that they saw an opportunity to maybe get out and jumped on it. I believe they put a wounded soldier on the stretcher, but they weren't exactly concerned about his comfort or well being after that.
posted by peppermind at 10:33 PM on July 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

@bluecore: Yes, the soldier on the stretcher was definitely alive (and wounded). You could see him move and groan a bit, and that's when the two soldiers simultaneously came to the same idea of carrying him onto the ship.
posted by adrianhon at 3:34 AM on July 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

It was sad he died on the ship but then the beach was hardly a health spa and shortly after the ship boards the Naval Commander and the Army colonel discuss stopping putting injured men on the boats in favour of putting seven standing men on in the same space, so either way he was in trouble.

I also think that the guy on the stretcher was one of the injured that we saw earlier on the beach lined up at the top of the beach.
posted by biffa at 6:39 AM on July 24, 2017

I should preface this by saying that I thought it was good.

Maybe it was just my theater but that movie was loud, like, LOUD FAR TOO LOUD. I did not need the movie to hammer home the terror of being bombed on the beach by making the planes louder than actual planes.

I didn't really understand the point of jumping around time except to confuse me.

My only other complaint is that it felt small. Branagh tells me that they have 400,000 troops to try to evacuate but then when you show me the beach it kind of looks like you've got 1,000 people there tops? I've read that Nolan likes to stick to practical effects but it kind of diminished the hopelessness of the entire situation.
posted by graventy at 3:16 PM on July 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Very good, but as graventy says, it's very, very loud. But honestly, I knew that the volume would be set at 'blast your eardrums' the moment I heard the director was Christopher Nolan: that's his normal, in all his films. He has this thing about what he considers "ambient" sound, where he feels the background noises should be given as much attention as minor little details like, say, the damn dialog. It makes for a painfully-loud movie (Nolan movies should come with free earplugs!) and pissed-off viewers (who frequently ask for the dialog to be turned up and/or the background be turned down, which is physically impossible for a theater to do: it's all up or all down, and Nolan demands that theaters play his films at x volume).

On the other hand, this is 2D (like all his films) because Nolan personally hates 3D and considers it little more than a gimmick, which I tend to agree with.
posted by easily confused at 6:47 AM on July 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was surprised that two teenaged boys living in a town on the Channel couldn't already spot planes--we had plane spotting cards from WWII at my house when I was a kid, I was told they were distributed widely so civilians could distinguish the different silhouettes. Was that later in the war?

I would also like to never again see a movie where a fighter plane's canopy malfunctions. I was internally yelling at the movie during that scene.

I mostly enjoyed the different passages of time as a conceit but they did get a little confusing and I'll need to see the movie like four more times to make better sense of it (REALLY wish there was a 70mm showing near me). One huge drawback to the framing was that I had no idea how long Tom Hardy was gliding around but it seemed like forever, and why didn't he do an ocean landing? And as an aside, what does Christopher Nolan have against Tom Hardy's face, which I enjoy seeing in its entirety? Another thing where I couldn't figure out what the fuck was happening was--who was shooting at the Dutch boat they were hiding in, waiting for the tides to pick it up?

The score was wonderfully tense and the sound design was just fucking brilliant. Yes, it was loud, but I think about my grandfathers in that war and I figure, I can suck it up for two hours.
posted by padraigin at 6:41 PM on July 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, and I forgot: just when I thought I was done crying, the credits thanked some of the original Little Dorset Ships for participating in the film. *sniff*
posted by padraigin at 6:43 PM on July 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Listening to Nimrod full power

I thought the sound and music were amazing. I should've expected the time jumps but it did add to the confusion which made it more realistic. I loved the shot of the Spitfire flying silently overhead after the propeller stopped rotating. Mark Rylance, how wonderful is he?

700 private boats were involved in the evacuation, a few made numerous trips. Many Dutch commercial coasters and Belgian fishing boats were involved too. I wish that had been better represented onscreen.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:14 PM on July 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I didn't really understand the point of jumping around time except to confuse me.

My take on this was that Dunkirk would have been experienced in very different timeframes depending on where you were. The soldiers would have been on the beach for days, hence the week timeframe for the infantry branch. If memory serves the whole evacuation took something like 10 days from start to finish. My grandad was there and was on the beach for nearly 3 days, a lot of that in the water dealing with the small boats and helping load them. He finally got out on a minesweeper that took him to Harwich.

The naval branch have their story told over a day as that would have been the length of a typical trip and the planes would typically only have enough fuel to last an hour over the beach.

One small detail that jarred was that Rylance's boat left from Weymouth (and was filmed there) but I find it hard to believe that it would have returned there with its load of soldiers - that's like a 200+ mile one way trip - would they not have shuttled them back to Dover or somewhere close and then gone back for more?
posted by jontyjago at 4:41 AM on July 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

On the other hand, this is 2D (like all his films) because Nolan personally hates 3D and considers it little more than a gimmick, which I tend to agree with.

The showing I was at was introduced by Mark Kermode as it was shown as part of an ongoing series of 35mm films he curates locally. He does so since he is keen to keep actual film stock in use and as part of his intro he told the story that he thanked Paul Thomas Anderson for his work with other directors to encourage studios to keep using film. Apparently Anderson told him that it was pretty much down to Nolan, since he insisted and his delivery of popular money-making blockbusters means he carries enough weight to make it count.
posted by biffa at 6:53 AM on July 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kodak basically only exists right now because the major Hollywood studios made a deal with them to buy a certain amount of film stock every year. Nolan, Abrams, Tarantino, Wright, both Andersons and a bunch of other big name directors will only shoot on film. Nolan, Tarantino and Paul Anderson are the only ones that I know of that have also insisted on distributing on film too but I'm not sure about that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:15 AM on July 26, 2017 [6 favorites]


The emotional part that didn't hit me as hard as I'm sure Nolan wanted it to was the arrival of the ships from Dorset, with the "What do you see?"..."Home!" dialogue and the swelling score. Maybe if we hadn't been following one of the ships and were maybe as surprised as Branagh seemed to be...I suspect it'll hit me harder on later viewings.

The part that did get to me was when Rylance's son lies to Cillian Murphy about the other kid being okay, after the kid has died...The care in protecting Murphy from the truth in spite of how the son had been dealing with the circumstances up to then gave me a lump in my throat. And I liked Rylance's little nod to the son.
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:31 AM on July 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Interesting explanation of the techniques used in the score.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

We have tickets to see a 70mm print tonight. I think this is the first time I've ever seen the same movie in a theater on consecutive nights, but we enjoyed it so much we couldn't resist the chance to see it in 70mm when we discovered it's playing in a suburb.

I will report back on the contrast between the prints, and on how a second viewing changes my understanding of the film.
posted by padraigin at 12:17 PM on July 26, 2017

Ugh, the color saturation and the clarity of the 70mm print is gorgeous. Now I want to see it one more time in IMAX.

A second viewing really helped me "get" the time frames. jontyjago's comment about the length of time each part of the story would have taken helped that a lot too, so thanks.

Things that stood out on rewatch: the utter Britishness of it all--the medicinal application of tea in all situations, the stiff-upper-lip off-you-go-now of the officers and of Rylance. This was a very English movie about a very English event.

I am still not one hundred percent sure what Tom Hardy was up to at the end--I can only guess that he looked down, saw that a water landing would be too uncontrollable with all the small ships, and sacrificed himself. Does that sound right?
posted by padraigin at 8:25 PM on July 26, 2017

Yes, that was my understanding. Boats in the water and no way of avoiding them. It's what so amazed me about Sullenberger's landing on the Hudson, he had a clear path to land, something that rarely happens where I live.

Also, the scene where he is flying lower and lower over the sand reminds me of another movie, same hopeless feeling, out of fuel, very quiet. Anyone know?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:40 AM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

That gliding along the sands brought to my mind Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
posted by padraigin at 6:46 PM on July 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, the scene where he is flying lower and lower over the sand reminds me of another movie, same hopeless feeling, out of fuel, very quiet. Anyone know?

Would that be the intro and end scene of English Patient, when Almásy flies the Tiger Moth over the dunes, carrying Katharine's body?

Back to Dunkirk, I found the movie impressive, with gorgeous cinematography and music, and many tight, suspenseful or just beautiful scenes. It's less a war movie than a survival horror movie. It has an abstract, painterly quality, with little dialogue and no characters to speak of, except those played by Rylance, Murphy and Brannagh (Hardy mumbles behind a mask, as usual). In the "Mole" sequence, I couldn't tell who was who and who did what, but I didn't find that a problem: the movie succeeds on a physical level. We feel the gunshots and the bombs. The dogfights are incredible. The fact that the enemy is never named adds to the remoteness. In some way, it's a cousin of Apocalypse Now, an abstract "Vietnam war" movie that was never about the Vietnam war. l'll definitely watch it again.

That said, this abstraction is also part of the problem I have with the movie. This is, after all, a story about true events and, while I don't mind history to be tweaked, simplified and even rewritten for narrative purposes, there were a number of things that I found bothering. First, the britwashing: about 40% of the Dunkirk evacuees were French but one wouldn't guess that after seeing the movie. The movie tagline is "When 400,000 men couldn't get home", but a large part of these men were already home. Second: it's the most bloodless war movie since the 1950s. When Stukas drop bombs on the beach, you see soldiers flying in the air (one doesn't come down, he's probably still up there) and seconds later the beach is all clean, except of a few very neat and intact corpses, and the good Brits resume queuing. I understand it's PG-13 but come on, we've seen Private Ryan, war movies are no longer "bang you're dead". Third: there's little sense of the scale of both the evacuation and the surrounding devastation. The beaches are shown to be mostly desert when in reality they were covered with thousands of abandoned and burned vehicles. When the soldiers fight in Dunkirk it's all intact and pretty, where in reality 70% of the city was destroyed and looked like this and this. It doesn't help that some of the aerial shots feature some suscipiciously recent-looking buildings. The already mentioned tracking shot in Atonement seems to give a more accurate portrayal of the situation.

Out of curiosity I rewatched a classic French movie from 1964 called Week-end à Zuydcoote, which is also an big-budget epic about the Dunkirk evacuation and has also as reluctant hero a (French) soldier trying to get out by any means necessary. It's a traditional 1960-era war movie, with movie stars, unrealistic dialogue, and a tacked-on love story. It's much more cinematically pedestrian than Dunkirk, and Nolan seems to have borrowed - and largely improved on - some sequences (the first sequence of both movies shows the soldiers picking up German pamphlets; we also see the soldiers cowering in the ships when a bomber approaches, and characters stealing boots from dead soldiers). Like Dunkirk, Week-end never shows the Germans, but it does show both the British and French soldiers. It also has a better sense of the scale, chaos, destruction and gore of the evacuation.

But the most interesting difference is in the tone. Week-end à Zuydcoote is extremely cynical. The main character ends up killing fellow soldiers. We see French soldiers cheating, stealing, and raping, or just being scumbags and future black market profiteers. The most heroic one is way too much in love with his machine-gun. While there are some good guys (the Brits, a desillusioned priest), there are no heroes in the movie. Dunkirk, on the other hand, ends up on a uplifting, patriotic note (the original Brexit?) that would not have been out of place in a British propaganda movie of the time (see Their Finest, a delightful movie about... making a propaganda movie about the Little Ships of Dunkirk). Dunkirk may be a survival story, but it still has old-fashioned heroes doing heroic things.
posted by elgilito at 7:10 PM on July 30, 2017 [8 favorites]

I saw it last week in regular format at a regular cinema, and was still pretty impressed. As a work of filmcraft, I thought it was excellent, especially the cinematography and the sound editing -- good lord, that first 'PINGK' of a bullet hitting the hull of that abandoned ship..!

But as a story, I liked it even more. A war story with no winners, no real triumph. Dozens of small, human moments where someone needs to make a choice of self-preservation which will come with immediate negative consequences for someone else, right there. The enemy was abstracted or removed entirely, which placed the real conflict at that personal level, back among one's comrades.

Quite impressed. Yesterday I learned that the voice over the radio belonged to Michael Caine, which was a nice, subtle way of tying in the movie to the great heritage of the genre.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:34 AM on July 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was stunned by the film. When I saw the first trailer - last year, wasn't it? - I was totally nonplussed that anyone in this day and age, let alone Christopher Nolan, would make a film about the evacuation of Dunkirk, but actually seeing it was an extraordinary experience. It very much achieved what I think was Nolan's intention - to somehow convey the experiences of the characters through whose eyes one sees the events - looking up at the enormous event rather than down upon it (which would be the usual epic approach). It was only later that I realised that you see very little of the actual evacuation, for example, apart from the Rylance boat.

I was also surprised by the IMAX. We generally go to see things that work well in 3d (the trippier Marvel movies, for example) at the IMAX, but, of course, those are projected in widescreen - just a standard movie on a much larger screen. It was only yesterday that I realised that IMAX is essentially academy ratio, and goes up and down as much as it goes to left and right. It's that that makes the experience overwhelming.

The nice thing about going to the IMAX at the Science Museum (which we did) to see it is that on the way out one walks under an actual spitfire.
posted by Grangousier at 3:39 PM on August 5, 2017

Finally saw it in its last week at my local 70mm theater. It was big and loud and enjoyable. I found a fair bit of the dialogue kind of muddy (not just Hardy behind his mask), but it didn't matter. The nonlinear timeline caught me off guard at first, but then I settled in and was able to paste together things a bit better.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:05 PM on September 5, 2017

before i read the the thread: fantastic film. horrifying class apologia issues. Amazing, frustrating, probably best in a generation aviation footage. Highly prompted to find immediate precursor Dunkirk movies.

As an aviation sim person, I can't count the number of times I have overflown that harbor between 1914 and 1941. seeing it in this film from the air, in this moment as imagined br Nolan et al, well, goodness. Thank you for that, even if my political and critical assessment of the film is skeptical of the viewpoint presented in-film.
posted by mwhybark at 1:15 AM on December 22, 2017

thanks all for your perspectives. Atonement, jesus yes imma get on that! My wife is away to have Xmas with her family and I have determined that I can best benefit from this by watching war movies 24/7 until she gets back, as the Lord intended. Next (and half-watched): Fury, which appears to be a horrible mess. After that, Gance's Napoleon.
posted by mwhybark at 1:28 AM on December 22, 2017

I thought the movie was quite good at recreating the claustrophobic feel of the situation, where you're thinking, "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT" at all those soldiers waiting like sitting ducks on the beach, and at the same time realizing there's no damn way for them to get out. There's very little character development, but the urgency and suspense and the horror is so strong it's not needed. I can't think of another movie I could say that about.

Like a poster above, I thought the near bloodlessness of the movie made no sense and detracted from the realism.
posted by orange swan at 6:01 PM on February 24, 2018

Just watched it for the second time, it worked a lot better with a clearer chronology. Technically it's incredibly impressive.

But there's no way you could put 400,000 people on a beach for a week and have it look that clean.

One thing I *completely* missed the first time was the nod to The Prestige at the end.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 6:43 AM on March 12, 2018

What was that?
posted by rmd1023 at 10:15 AM on March 12, 2018

The shot of all the abandoned helmets on the beach. It looked a lot like the transported top hats in Tesla's forest.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:55 PM on March 12, 2018

I saw this a couple months ago at home..

The jumping timeline worked all right up until the big intersection where Hardy has to make his decision, the oil is about to catch fire, etc., and then it ends up repeating and dangling so much that it really wrecked the tension for me and seemed like a bad way to tell the story at that moment.

The weird unreality/variability of the soldiers on the beach was strange.. The tiny number of rescue ships.. Ships kind of randomly come and go from the mole.. And what happened to the French, Nolan? Oddly, this movie largely does not seem to give much of a hoot about the conditions on the beach at Dunkirk. Even from the beginning I was wary as the soldier is fleeing through the streets chased by disembodied magical near-miss bullets.

I dunno. For a big war movie it felt small and fake. For a character-focussed war movie it felt pretty empty. At the end I was kind of rooting for the German bomber to drop a bomb right on Branagh's stupid face, wonder what is the point of this movie? Who is it really supposed to appeal to?

I mean, I did feel very happy when Tom Hardy got his landing gear down. There were some pretty moments. In the end, though, if this is supposed to be THE movie about Dunkirk, if this is supposed to be Christopher Nolan at the height of his powers, that seems pretty sad to me.
posted by fleacircus at 1:36 AM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Nolan has stated that he didn't want the movie to be as oppressively tense as Saving Private Ryan. The focus is on how many men (boys) didn't die, and not vice versa. There's a lot of actual events that we just don't see as well. The Luftwaffe lost 240 aircraft during this operation, the bulk of them downed by the Royal Navy, and the RAF spent most of their time inland, ultimately destroying/disabling almost 50% of the advancing armor, with the infantry still miles behind them. Stukas were no match against Spitfires. The bulk of the French were still fighting in the south, and were evacuated from one of those ports.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:32 AM on May 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

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