by Sumaita Hasan

Christopher Nolan’s ambition results in a masterful, cacophonous depiction of the quickness of war. Set against a soundtrack of constant consternation, the film’s urgent pace and colossal imagery impart a lasting impression of wartime mania.

The move is best viewed in IMAX 70mm in order to view the wondrous stretches of land and hills of seafoam. Smaller screens will arouse half the senses.

The audience is introduced to three storylines: one on the sea, one on land, and one in the sky. Young English soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is the main character on land. We first see him bring the wounded to a ship after witnessing one man, Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) bury a fellow mate. Other characters include the prominent Harry Styles, who plays Alex, and has more than just one bland delivery. Upon being denied entry, the boys shift tracks and hide in a mole. The soldiers experience more than one bombing, eventually hiding in a boat that becomes perforated with bullet holes. At one point, a brief argument ensues as the boys are again, nearly drowning (one of many instances of being neck-high in water) and most of the boys are rescued.

Going back to the sea, a man and his son, along with their hand, aboard a ship set to to sail to France. They rescue a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) who violently insists on turning the boat around to England instead of its destination: Dunkirk. The seamen play a role in bringing home soldiers swimming in pools of oil.

Finally, in the sky, fighter planes continue to drop bombs, their sudden arrival riveting audience members. Some planes are taken down, others are captured. Most of the film focuses on Tom Hardy’s eyes (he plays Farrier the pilot), which in fact deliver brilliant, steadfast looks of intent.

 

Though many pan the film for its lack of “heart,” the timing of war does not allow for prolonged breaks of teary despair. There is no time to stop and process much of anything: the audience is immediately thrust into an environment, running with the actors, soaring with them. That is exactly the kind of detachment survivors display and Nolan captures this and develops it into the essence of his project. The few moments of silence the film offers are perhaps the only times of relief before we come back to the unnerving realization that the war has yet to end. Even as the screen cuts to black, it’s as if we are still moving.