With the rampant popularity of the movie Dunkirk, I want to express why I number among the small minority which did not care for the film. The reasons are no where near as silly as one reviewer’s complaint about the absence of blacks in the film. As a huge fan of WWII films (I was practically raised on Guadalcanal Diary, Hell to Eternity, The Enemy Below, and The Longest Day), I am actually happy that people like the movie. More and better WWII films will result from its popularity.
Most of my complaints derive from having read Churchill’s account of the Dunkirk evacuation and being such a WWII movie buff. I hope to highlight these problems below and then provide a list of some better WWII movies, all of which I have seen, which modern audiences might want to watch.
1) Lack of Characters
In watching the movie, it seems as though Nolan did not want any particular characters to stand out. The only persons names I remember learning were the civilians on their yacht who sailed to Dunkirk: George, Peter, and Mr. Dawson. But, even these do not seem so much individuals as types.
The only person to stand out from the masses of soldiers and sailors was Commander Bolton, the pier master. (During the film, I just thought of him as “the navy officer.”) Curiously, this is not that individual’s real name. The name of the pier master for that awful week–and there was only one–was Commander James Campbell Clousten. Nolan’s decision not to credit this hero correctly angered the commander’s son, Dane Clousten, and I myself don’t see the reason for making up the name of someone so conspicuous in the battle.
2) Mixture of Timelines is Confusing
I was lost during the film because of Nolan’s odd decision to weave three timelines: one week, one day, and one hour. If not for my father explaining it to me, I never would have figured it out.
3) Showing the Germans as a Force of Nature
This is especially so in the beginning, where we see shots fired at British soldiers but not the shooters themselves. There exists a storytelling trope called personification, whereby non-persons are given personal attributes. Seldom does one see the reverse on such a grand scale! The lack of characters means that British soldiers and sailors are seen more as an ethnic block than as persons, but the effect is even greater in regard to the Germans!
4) Figures in the Film not Reminiscent of the Greatest Generation
This might be where my history watching old WWII movies hurt my enjoyment of the film the most. After watching it, I dubbed this film: “Millenials at Dunkirk the Movie.” Few things so break suspension of disbelief as the actors appearing to belong to an entirely different era than the one depicted.
5) Lack of Defiance towards the Enemy
Churchill records that the soldiers eventually began to scoff at the German dive bombers. The fact that Dunkirk’s beaches were sandy instead of stony meant that the bombs produced little shrapnel, and the troops started to make fun of the German efforts at blowing them to bits.
In the film, the range of emotions tended to vary from calm to fearful. But, people in the 40’s, probably because they survived one of the bleakest global depressions on record, had a very robust sense of humor. Captured soldiers frequently defied the enemy to their face. The
Millenials men depicted here are clearly of a different sort.
The above describes my lack of enthusiasm for the film–even though, as I said, I am happy that the film is doing so well. May our dear readers watch these other films, which I believe convey the spirit of the people of those times better.
- Wake Island (1942)
- Desperate Journey (1942)
- Flying Tigers (1942)
- Destination Tokyo (1943)
- Guadalcanal Diary (1943)
- Edge of Darkness (1943)
- The Fighting Seabees (1944)
- Wing and a Prayer (1944)
- Back to Bataan (1945)
- Objective Burma (1945)
- Pride of the Marines (1945)
- A Walk in the Sun (1945)
- Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
- Go for Broke! (1951)
- The Longest Day (1962)
- The Great Escape (1963)
- The Dirty Dozen (1967)
- Hell in the Pacific (1968)
- The Devil’s Brigade (1968)
- The Big Red One (1980)
Each one of the movies above is better than Dunkirk, and I think one gains a better appreciation about how people of the time thought about the war from these movies. Some of the later movies even feature actors who served in the war, like Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin, Eddie Albert, Toshiro Mifune, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Rod Steiger, and Gert Frobe.
Are there any other WWII movies our readers would recommend?