by Ava Alaeddini
Unless you were living under a rock this summer, you surely heard about Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated war film “Dunkirk”. It reviews the military disaster that was the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 during the midst of World War II. The Dunkirk evacuation was the evacuation of Allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. British, French and Belgian soldiers were surrounded by German troops with either the choice to surrender and become prisoners of war or try to escape. Around 300,000 soldiers ended up getting rescued by planes, locals crossing the English channel, or cruisers. The aftermath of the evacuation devastated Britain and its army with Winston Churchill calling it “a colossal military disaster”. The film is focused on three perspectives that the British army had during the evacuations. “The Mole” is the first perspective which is where most of the soldiers resided to take refugee and hide from the German forces and mainly focuses on the characters of Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Alex (Harry Styles), and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard). “The Sea” is the second perspective that narrates the story of English locals, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), Peter Dawson (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend George Mills (Barry Keoghan) who set out to sea risking to their own lives to try and get some of the soldiers back to England safe. The third perspective is “The Air” which tells of the experiences that the men of the Royal Air Force had to go through to try and defeat German planes that were trying to shoot down British men on the beaches. The narrative focuses mainly on two pilots named Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) who are both Royal Air Force spitfire pilots trying to save their own lives along with the men who are risking theirs to fight for England.
“Dunkirk” was originally proposed as an idea by Christopher Nolan in the 1990s but it wasn’t until 2015 that Nolan actually put together a script for the movie. The script purposefully contained less dialogue than usual due to Nolan wanting to focus more on the experience that the soldiers were going through than the dialogue. He structured the script to tell the stories from a visual point of view rather than weigh down the film with background story and drama. The approach toward the film was seen as more of a documentary than as a dramatic war film, for Nolan wanted to pay tribute to the survivors by making it as historically accurate as possible.
Casting was considered a huge deal around the film industry as many young men stepped forward eagerly for a chance to be in the film. Nolan wanted an unknown actor for the lead role as Tommy, a young, inexperienced British soldier, hoping that it would take the audience’s focus away from the protagonists celebrity status and focus more on the story. Nolan ended up going with newcomer Fionn Whitehead, a young twenty year old inspiring actor who was working in a cafe in Waterloo when he got the call from his agent. In the supporting roles of the film, Nolan took more of the famous actors that he was used to seeing on the big screen like Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hardy. However, he did make one decision by casting One Direction star Harry Styles in a supporting role as Alex, a British soldier who accompanies Tommy to try and get home. Styles auditioned for the part against thousands of other men, and Nolan was unaware of Styles’ fame as a singer until his daughter pointed it out. He defended his decision to cast Styles by comparing him to the casting decision he had previously made for Heath Ledger to play the Joker and pointed out that Styles had won the role fairly.
The emotional intensity of “Dunkirk” really drew in the viewer, making them feel the exact anxiety and fear that the men on the screen were feeling during that moment. During multiple times during the movie, I noticed that I had been holding my breathe or could feel my shoulders tensing up. Movies almost never have this sort of effect on me, but somehow Christopher Nolan had drawn me into a world where I was running alongside a beach in France trying to find my way home.
There are many things about this movie that I would like to praise Nolan about. The historical accuracy which blew me away, it’s tough to find a war film that sticks to the books as much as “Dunkirk” did. The use of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large format film really brought out the detailed visuals that the movie needed to draw the audience in. However, the cast was what made the movie extraordinary. The many characters that ranged from the harsh, and war torn soldiers that to the spitfire pilots. Each of these actors developed the ability to convey the emotions on their faces instead of trying to grasp it through the little dialogue that was provided in the film. Overall, “Dunkirk” received critical acclaim and is expected to hit high during the 2018 awards seasons next year, so if you have not seen this emotional story that leads you through the beaches and waters of France. I suggest you put down this article and run to your nearest cinema.