Word to the wise for anyone near my age (72): if you see Dunkirk in an IMax theater with the new, state of the art sound system, use earplugs. They were on offer at our Boeing IMax at Seattle Center just for the asking; the mostly younger crowd entering the theater didn’t seem much interested. I was glad to have them.
World War II was not “my” war; I was born in May of 1945. The war was essentially over by June of that year, and the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed in September. I was a young child during the Korean war, from 1950-53, and remember nothing. Viet Nam was “my” war, the one I followed every night on the news, the one whose images were seared into my brain in current time, the one where people I knew sweated the draft lottery month by month. My late husband Jerry was in ROTC all during graduate school. Immediately upon being awarded his PhD, he entered the Army. When we met in Washington, D.C., he was a First Lieutenant, quickly promoted to Captain, working in the Chemical Corps. He never went to VietNam, although most of his basic training cohort did.
I knew the story of Dunkirk from history courses, how in May of 1940 Allied forces were trapped on the beaches by advancing Nazi troops. Over 8 days, almost 340,000 men were pulled safely from the beach by a flotilla of 800 small boats that set out from Britain to achieve the miracle rescue.
The film Dunkirk has been criticized as lacking in emotional content, and being without character development. For me, those were not flaws. I imagine the horror of those 8 days did include frozen emotions of those trapped on the beach, desperately trying to survive And I suspect no one character stood out very much or for very long, not on the beach, not among the rescuers.
I was struck by how technologically basic war was then. British and Nazi fighter pilots pursued each other in the air with rudimentary navigation tools and weapons. There were no big Huey helicopters to fly to the rescue on the beach. Communications were minimal. Individual acts of heroism and decency happened; so did survival group-think and casting aside the weakest member. Random luck played a huge part in an individual’s survival. Were you in the strafing pattern of the diving plane, or just outside?
I strongly recommend the film, which affected me deeply. In the end there is a winner in a war, or at least a stalemate and cease fire. But the suffering and abject brutality is shared all around, and for those on the beaches of Dunkirk, I suspect the shadow of that immense suffering and sheer terror never entirely faded.