“War is hell,” and in the hands of Christopher Nolan, rarely has that hell ever been shown with such humanity and authentic struggle. Taking on the infamous Dunkirk beach evacuation of 1940. The retreating British and French soldiers – surrounded by enemy Germans – found themselves trapped and cornered in the city of Dunkirk with their backs against the expanse of the Channel, so close to home, and yet so far away. It is that sense of fear, fatigue and defeat amongst the soldiers caught up in the horrific setting that Christopher Nolan focuses on in his presentation of this military disaster.
In now expected Nolan style the film takes on the story in innovative fashion, structuring it across three different overlapping timelines all eventually converging to the same point. The first part is titled ‘The Mole’ (taking place over one week), focusing on the narrow docking point that the navy’s evacuation ships were forced to use to pick up the stranded soldiers. The second timeline is ‘The Sea’ (taking place over one day), focusing in on the privately owned boats – commandeered by the Navy – which answered the call to make the perilous crossing of the channel, and into the battle to help transport the soldiers. Finally, there’s ‘The Air’ (taking place over one hour), taking us into the cockpits of the small band of RAF pilots tasked with fending off the swarming Luftwaffe who were circling the stranded allied forces, trying to pick them off and deliver a final hammer blow to their foes.