I admit I don’t get out to the movies as often as I would like. I typically see hit movies several months later, once they come out on DVD. But sometimes a movie comes out that receives such universal acclaim that I just have to see it. Dunkirk fits into that category. I was not particularly excited about it when I saw the previews (although anything Christopher Nolan does is instantly on my radar-The Dark Knight remains my favorite superhero movie of all time). However, when it was released and there was nary a bad review (including a ringing endorsement from a friend whose taste I trust), I knew I had to see it.
This is not a typical war movie. It does not share the same linear structure and characterization that my other favorite war movie, Saving Private Ryan, does. What it does share is the incredible horror of war in moments that are far more intimate and awful than what typically comes to mind when you think of war. The collateral damage and tiny moments of anguish are on full display here. And the inventive presentation of the events, while lacking the ordinary amount of dialogue or exposition, still resonate in a way that clearly presents the bleak situation everyone involved finds themselves in.
Then there is the score. Hans Zimmer ratchets up the tension throughout, and when it breaks it is only a momentary respite, before it builds again. I can’t imagine another score this year being as integral to a movie as this one.
This movie, just like other war movies I’ve seen, reminds me how grateful I am that I grew up in a time period that did not force me to ship off to war as a terrified 18 year old. I have immense respect for people who fought in wars (like my grandfather who served in World War 2) and I don’t take for granted the horrors that they faced and carried back home with them. I know a cinematic representation cannot fully make me aware of all that veterans endured, but at least it can give me some sort of perspective. Dunkirk does that in an incredibly powerful way.