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Cinema in Focus: ‘Dunkirk’

3 Stars - Sobering

History reminds us that the beginning of World War II was fraught with horror and tragedy.

The Dunkirk evacuation, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the removal of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between May 26 and June 4, 1940.

After severe losses trying to stop the advance of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of most of Europe, the embattled armies of Belgium, the British Empire and France had retreated to the beaches of Dunkirk, only to find that there was almost no way to get more than 400,000 soldiers out of the country.

The movie, Dunkirk, is a sobering reminder that so many young men gave their lives to protect the freedoms we often take for granted. Stuck on the beach, the horrors that these men had already seen had left them shell-shocked and longing for home.

Even though home was almost within their sight, it was nearly impossible to reach. The Germans were bombing and destroying most of the naval ships that managed to remove the wounded from the shores of France.

Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this piece of history that is commonly known in Europe, but often overlooked in the United States. It is partially filmed on location in France where the actual events took place, causing the sense of realism to be palpable.

The “miracle” of Dunkirk is embodied in the fact that when almost all of the naval ships that could evacuate the soldiers were being destroyed by German aircraft, more than 800 fishing and pleasure boats from England formed a volunteer brigade and crossed the channel, retrieving the 400,000 men in a matter of three days.

We see the events of history unfold through the stories of a few soldiers on the beach, through the sights of a couple of brave British airmen sent to defend the retreat, and through the heroic efforts of one of the small crafts that risked their lives to cross the sea.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles) are among a handful of stories we follow on the beach as these young men face the sheer, shattering reality of war unknown to them.

How do you face the fact that death is all around you and you could easily be next? What do you do in the presence of seemingly hopeless choices?

Similarly, how do men with little boats on the shores of England think they can make a difference in the evacuation of 400,000 soldiers in the presence of the Nazi war machine?

Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), along with his son and a neighbor boy, leave their home harbor with little knowledge of what they are about to face. What they meet along the way shows us all why we need to never forget those who went to war on our behalf.

Hundreds of movies have been made about World War II, but Dunkirk will give you a glimpse into a part of history you probably didn’t really know.

War is by its very nature violent, but Nolan has spared the viewer from overly graphic displays while focusing on the fear and trepidation that was present in every person we watch.

The lack of care for the innocent that war creates is self-evident, but the compassion that rises in the midst of the worst of humanity is inspiring.

Discussion

» Finding the courage to risk one’s life to save another is considered by many to be the height of human character. Where do you think these hundreds of civilians found that courage?

» Trapped with no way to escape we often see the worse in humanity. What do you think makes this moment so different?

» The desire to control the world brought Hitler to power. What do you think it is within humanity that would long for such supremacy?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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