‘Dunkirk’ Will Evacuate Major Awards


As awards time approaches on 2016 movies, my money is on “Dunkirk” pulling in some major wins. That is, if it isn’t passed over for being a war movie.

As I’ve noted here before, I’m a fan of war movies. That may seem to some like it violates and even contradicts being a political progressive, but I don’t buy that. Idealistically I am a pacifist and would love to see the human race evolve beyond war. It is the worst group expression of our species’ lower and animal nature and our capacity for violence and destruction.

But I also live as a realist. And am one who lived through a war that was being fought within proverbial spitting distance – or more literally, just a few seconds away as the missile flies – from where the battle was raging while living in Israel on a college study group in 1973.

On the other hand, just prior to that the Vietnam War and the threat of being drafted loomed as I came to voting and military service. Both the draft and the daily TV diet of the first war seen in the news in close to real time did help fuel an effective antiwar movement in the US. Yet our collective memory seems to have failed us after the trauma of 9/11 as this nation foolishly went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And that cultural shift is still far too pervasive in our society.

On the other hand, if we look at the nature of movies, and dramatic movies at that, war is drama at its height. So naturally it has been the milieu for some of the greatest dramatic movies ever made – a long list. And as well, some very notable black and absurdist comedies.

One can enjoy war movies yet still oppose war. War movies should also not be denigrated even if there are those who interpret them wrongly. I assess them as movies, judging them as cinematic works. And must note that World War II movies do seem less objectionable as it was in some ways “the last good war.”

Having read very little about “Dunkirk” before I saw it, it was not what I expected, and happily and impressively so. I imagined panoramic scenes of hundreds of small boats and ships crossing the channel, and seeing the accumulated near miracle of hundreds of thousands of British and other allied soldiers being evacuated and saved.

One thing I savored about “Dunkirk” was instead its tight and small focus, which accentuated the human element. Director/writer Christopher Nolan made a very smart decision in doing so. As a result, it’s a different kind of war movie than many other notable ones. Yet its effect is still as strong, maybe even more so as a result.

It zeroed in on mainly a one boat rather than the armada of fishing and pleasure vessels, yet still tells the larger story by doing so. Within that we also see up close the ill effects of shell shock that struck so many by following a single soldier.

Similarly the couple of soldiers who try to get off the beach ahead of others served the larger picture of how some behaved wrongly in an effort to save their own skins. Yet at the same time the orderly (but still small in context) queues of soldiers waiting to get evacuated served the larger context of cooperation that helped make the event so remarkable.

And then there’s the aerial scenes. They give the film the large sweep I hoped for yet at the same time, again, narrow the focus to the heroism of a few individuals. And are visually stunning.

After seeing it, I read one criticism that decried the lack of blood that would have upped the horror. Yet the flooded ship scenes provided all of that and the terror a war movie should convey. It also took “Dunkirk” to task for not using some of the real life boat and ship stories that were rich with drama. Yet what Nolan conceived still succeeds as a masterful film, and a different kind of war film that I found so worthy I will soon view it again.

Populist Picks:

TV Documentary: World War Two: 1941 and the Man of Steel – Contemporaneous with Dunkirk in the west was Hitler’s attack on Russia in the east. The USSR nearly lost a number of times during the invasion, and the primary factor in those close calls as well as eventual victory was the mercurial figure of Joseph Stalin. This historically intelligent doc examines the episodes and the dictator in gripping depth.

Book: Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor – The critical battle of the Nazi/Soviet theater of WWII in which a million people died and the city of its title was reduced to ruins gets a rich telling in this first-class tome.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2018


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