Dunkirk refers to the coastal town of Dunkerque in northern France, which played a vital role during the early part of World War II in what is known as the Battle of Dunkirk, when British Expeditionary forces, aiding French troops to defend France from Nazi invasion, were overrun and beaten back by the powerful and aggressive advance of the highly organized German army.

Forced to retreat, the British, French, Canadian and some Dutch and Belgian troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk where they were to be evacuated across the English Channel back to the safety of England. With the Germans hot on their heels, the evacuation stalled when ships sent from England to pick up the beaten troops were torpedoed by German U-Boats and the vulnerable troops became sitting ducks for German Luftwaffe fighter planes to pick off at will.

This was the desperate situation that approximately 400,000 exhausted and virtually defenseless soldiers found themselves in for an excruciating 9 days while the English scrambled to make alternate plans to defend and evacuate the beaches of Dunkirk while the Nazis closed in for the kill.

As war films go, Dunkirk offers a stunningly dark and immersive experience that gives us an all-encompassing view of the events as they occur from multiple perspectives cutting between a montage of scenes from the three main theatres of war; the frightening experience of the soldier on the ground, the lonely isolated bird’s eye view of the British fighter pilot flying over the English Channel engaged in aerial combat with enemy planes, and one of the many civilians who made the dangerous journey across the Channel in small privately owned boats to try and help save as many lives as they could from the sea.

Christopher Nolan - Interstellar (2014) – The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 - 2012), attempts to show specific aspects of the battle from the English viewpoint. We never see the faces of the enemy. The threat is shown only as an unseen relentless force driving young men into desperate situations.

Soon after the start of hostilities in 1940, Europe quickly found themselves completely outmaneuvered and outgunned by a German war machine the size and speed of which had never been seen before. Young inexperienced European soldiers were completely unprepared for the violent onslaught that rained down upon them from the air, ground and sea.

As a survival story, Nolan’s Dunkirk greatly enhances the viewer’s feeling of despair and tension by throwing us into the bewildering battle as the confused and disoriented soldiers must have experienced it without any lead up to the events or character backstories.

Hans Zimmer’s eerie pervasive soundtrack is more like a synthesized screaming of string instruments that you might expect to hear in a horror film. The music has the harrowing screeching quality of a spitfire engine closely careening overhead that’s reminiscent of portions of The Dark Knight (2008) soundtrack.

Nolan’s intention is to give the viewer a visceral experience, making the events at Dunkirk accessible using the large IMAX format which is superbly well suited for putting the viewer in close proximity to the absurd war experience. The epic scale of the film with its vast expanses of beach, troops and sea, and the many threats from air, water and ground overwhelms with stunningly powerful scenes of war and destruction.


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