This is the film I’ve been waiting for years. Since reading the book, The Battle of Britain, 10 years ago and read the strip of the story of Dunkirk, I did not stop wishing that someday the story of how Operation Dynamo was carried successfully would be transformed into a motion picture. Ten years later, my wish would be granted. Only to be disappointed.
There’s no doubt that Christopher Nolan (writer and director of Dunkirk) is one of the most brilliant filmmakers in Hollywood. I’ve watched most of his films and almost all of it left me with a sore mind, trying to analyze the scenes. He is superb in mind games. His films often centered on logical plots and mind-bogging scenes. Like Inception.
So I expected so much about Dunkirk. First, because I know the story. I love history. I like the story of wars. Especially when it tackles the personal emotion of soldiers enduring a traumatizing situation in the battlefield. It drew sympathy. Second, because it’s a Christopher Nolan film. A mind plot master in Hollywood.
But I did not get what I was expecting. In fact, I was thoroughly frustrated, even at the very start of the film. I felt I was robbed with expectations. There was a big loophole somewhere in the screenplay. Emotion. It lacks a spike of emotion, which is the core of Dunkirk story.
Why I was disappointed?
Well, the story of Dunkirk is one of the most highly emotional testimonies of wars I’ve ever read in recent years. It retells the trauma suffered by the British soldiers while retreating, romping under enemies’ fire and left nothing to pick up their lives but themselves and their will to survive. For brave men trained to be tough in the front line under fire, their saga to leave their weapons behind and the battlefield was demoralizing. Their chance of survival was slimmer and they expected nothing in the world but miracle.
Dunkirk was a former coastal area in France where the Operation Dynamo was fully implemented. Operation Dynamo was a military strategy developed by the British commanders to evacuate the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) back to Britain.
It was May 1940, eight months after the second World War erupted. France already fell to Hitler’s panzers. The British Expeditionary Forces (the least experience among the Allied soldiers) were trapped in France and could not be mobilized. The British commanders thought their men would be totally crashed if they would continue to face the mighty German combatants. So they made a decision almost unthinkable to the brave soldiers trained to die for their country, evacuation.
They named this military strategy, Operation Dynamo. The plan was to bring all the soldiers to the coastal area of Dunkirk where the fleet of the British royal navy will wait. But it was risky. The German soldiers were equipped with high-powered battle gears, snipers were all over France, and Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, had expert dive-bombers ready to wipe out the retreating BEF.
The only edge of Great Britain in the battlefield was the British royal navy. Unlike Germany, Britain boasted the largest naval fleets and the most skillful navy officers in the world. The British commanders decided to bank on this edge. The royal air force pilots were tasked to cover the retreating BEF and the British warships by counter-attacking the Luftwaffe.
While marching to Dunkirk, the BEF suffered severe exhaustion clouded with uncertainties whether they could ever return home alive or be destroyed by the Luftwaffe on the beach. Many were shattered by hopelessness and sleeplessness. The demoralizing situation was even intensified when hunger and thirsty took over. Artilleries were left behind and they needed to traverse the dark and dangerous trail day and night without any assurance of survival. Tired, confused and feeling useless, some of them almost committed suicide on the road and tempted to surrender to the enemies.
Days of waiting for their destiny in the seashore, several of them died. More than half of the British royal air force pilots were also killed. The British warships were attacked by German torpedoes, though only few successfully sunk. When Hitler halted the operation of the German panzers to regroup, the task to attack the retreating soldiers was carried fully by the Luftwaffe.
That’s when the miracle took place. The weather turned somber over Dunkirk and the horizon was covered with thick mist and smoke from the burning town, prompting the Luftwaffe pilots to commit several errors on target, missing the dock and the throng of soldiers.
The bad weather provided an opportunity for the retreating BEF to save their lives. While the royal air force pilots and its Spitfires did the cover up on air, the royal navy hastened the operation, taking on board the remaining BEF.
The Operation Dynamo expected only 200,000 BEF but the number exceeded and the soldiers rescued reached more than 300,000. It was considered a miracle and a successful military operation.
However, none of these dramatic scenes were captured in the film. Nolan concentrated only on the drama above the water. No skillful royal navy officers were shown. Not even the heroic royal air force pilots with their victory formation, facing the mighty Luftwaffe. And why the bad weather around Dunkirk was not recreated when it was very crucial in the success of the Operation Dynamo story? Emotion was enormously lacking in the film.
The drama over low morale felt by most BEF was not clearly captured. In fact, the film editing was quite horrible by Hollywood standard. Scenes were kept jumping senselessly to another scene. In fact, the start of the film was too shallow to be considered a work of genius. The film began with snipers firing on the soldiers, then the chasing game followed. The next thing happened, the surviving soldier was already in the beach. Sucks!
The planning of Operation Dynamo seemed omitted and almost no mention in the film, where in fact, it was the core of the story of Dunkirk. Churchill was not even shown. Though the story of Dunkirk in reality is one of the most highly emotional stories of war, and the most frustrating when it comes to soldiers’ expectation, the film, however, failed to catch some sense of sympathy. Unclear message and confusing plot. Nolan could have done it better.