I emerged from the movie theater this past Friday night thinking that Dunkirk was a really good movie. But once I returned home and did some research on both the movie and the history of Dunkirk, I realized it wasn't a good movie. It was a great movie. Sometimes, it's good to know something about a movie before you go see it.
So allow me . . .
1- Basic history of Dunkirk: In late May and early June of 1940, the advancing German army pushed back the British and French armies to the beaches at Dunkirk, France. Over 330,000 soldiers were trapped and needed to be evacuated, but since there were not enough ships to transport such large numbers the British Admiralty called on all British citizens in possession of sea-worthy boats to help in the effort. The campaign became known as the "Miracle of Dunkirk."
2- The story is told from three perspectives: land (over a period of one week), sea (a period of one day), air (a period of one hour). The timeline hops back and forth between the three perspectives, often overlapping, but eventually merge to a single moment in time.
3- A mole is a massive structure, usually constructed of stone, between places separated by water. In the movie, two concrete moles protect the outer harbor at Dunkirk. Because troops could not be evacuated from the beach shore, the moles were used as piers so the soldiers could board the ships despite the fact that the moles were not designed as docks.
[Disclosure: I mention this only because of my initial confusion. Since this was a war movie, I mistakenly assumed "mole" referred to a spy; as a result, I spent a few confusing minutes thinking that two characters were spies. Not so. Avoid my confusion.]
4- There is very little dialogue in the movie. This was done with intention by Christopher Nolan, the film's director. You are not meant to know the characters' stories -- where they are from, who they are, or their history -- as they aren't important; rather, you are meant to be with the characters in the moment as they struggle to survive.
5- The musical score is a dialogue in itself. It pounds, surges, and screams. You can even hear the underlying ticking of a clock as momentum builds. It is a powerful element to the movie.
6- After the evacuation, Winston Churchill gave his famous "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech to the House of Commons which left no doubt as to Britain's resolve to continue the fight on all fronts.
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender ... our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old." ~Winston Churchill
And now, my friends, you know. Go see the movie.