Dunkirk: History or hype?
11-Aug-2017


“In the grey chill of dawn today in a south-eastern port, war correspondents watched with incredulous joy the happening of a miracle”.

That’s how the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’, on 1 June 1940, began its report of the evacuation of the troops of British and allied forces, from Dunkirk, during the Second World War.

The ‘incredulous joy’ of the reporters, as they watched the ‘miracle’ of the return of troops, is completely understandable when you look at the background of this tension-filled true-life war story.

Watching the movie ‘Dunkirk’ this week, I was fascinated by the lengths to which Director Christopher Nolan had gone so that we can get a good picture of that story; of how the dramatic rescue of 338,226 men (including 123,000 French soldiers) from Dunkirk actually happened.

The movie is a box office hit and is still running to packed houses across the world. But did it really do justice in its portrayal of the real history of Dunkirk evacuation? That is a question everyone is debating.

But let us look at the background first.

The troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had gone to Northern France to aid the French, but are cut off from the rest of the French Army by German advance. The little port commune of ‘Dunkirk’ is completely surrounded.

Trapped and stranded on the cold sea shore are thousands of British, Belgian, Dutch and other allied troops, hungry and desperate.

On the one side, they are being continuously bombarded from the air, by the German Luftwaffe. On the other side, the sea journey back, through the English Channel, could mean being hit by torpedoes from German U-Boats.

How can Britain get its troops back, along with allied forces’ soldiers? Should it muster in civilian boats? Should it send its RAF (Royal Air Force) planes to combat the Luftwaffe? What about the torpedoes from under water?

The movie gives us three perspectives. And we get to see what happens from the land, from the sea, and from the air. Set in one week, one day, and one hour respectively.

But there is an overlap of information given to viewers. And seeing the same event from different perspectives can make us wonder why the plane which had just crashed is crashing again!

The director’s retelling of the event, in this non-linear fashion, I found, somewhat irritating. But, since his movie ‘Inception’, I now come ready to exercise my mind while watching his works.

Critics have been saying that there was an improper representation of the allied powers’ participation in the war and that there was an inaccurate portrayal of the rescue. And that the movie is projecting the rescue as only a ‘British’ effort, and not as a ‘British Empire’ effort.

But having read well-researched material online – there is plenty if u wish - I am convinced he did his best. In fact, on some websites I found real photographs of Dunkirk rescue from 1940 newspapers with which he matched his scenes.

Let us admit it, no movie can accurately depict the truth. And, perhaps, in a way, it should not. The blood and gore of real war would become too much for us to stomach. And Nolan avoided that.

Even though Hans Zimmerman’s music is intense and keeps you at the end of the seat, and even though the aircraft-mounted cameras give us pilots’ view of the horizon in a spectacular dizzying way, one should not expect a ‘story’ to be entertained. It has minimal dialogues, but maximum action.

Like the rescue’s wartime code name ‘Operation Dynamo’, this movie is a dynamo. A great piece of art.


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