Tuesday, July 25, 2017


If it hadn’t been a movie, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk could have been a painting in the style of Picasso’s "Guernica" or Goya’s series  of prints, "The Disasters of War." It’s also a triptych like Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, seeing Dunkirk form the land, the sea and the air. Like a painting it works sychronistically, giving more a simultaneous feel for the desperation of a defeated army than introducing some kind of Hollywood style narrative where dramatic snapshots lead to a romantic conclusion in which everything is tied together is a neat catharsis. There’s no central character in Dunkirk, no Private Ryan if you will. There’s also something Shakespearean about the whole set up. Seeing the soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk, a recurring motif in the movie, is a little like Henry wandering in disguise amongst the knots of soldiers on the field at Agincourt. Nolan moves effortlessly between high and lo, civilian (Mark Rylance) and military (Kenneth Branagh). Actually the very first scene sets the tone. A young British soldier is inundated by broadsides dropped by the Germans. He’s then fired upon.  His fellow soldiers die around him. The scene doesn’t skip a beat. It’s the way tragedies happen, without explanation or hesitation. It’s similar to what happens out at sea where in one of the films most unforgettable scenes the water literally goes on fire. From the beginning and despite all the action, the movie’s impressionistic style makes you wonder when the plot is going to begin and that’s just the point. Churchill famously asked to get back 30,000 men and got 300,000, a huge retreat that turned into a victory.

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