I saw Dunkirk last night. Part of me wishes I hadn’t.
Dunkirk falls into the “important movies that I think everyone should see and I am very glad I saw but I never want to see again” category, much like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly summed its essence up quite neatly:
Nolan has for all intents and purposes conjured the British response to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. If you can imagine that film’s kinetic, nerve-wracking 29-minute opening D-Day invasion stretched out to feature length, this is what it would look like.
Nashawaty, by the way, gave the film an A.
Many reviewers criticize Dunkirk‘s lack of characterization, that Christopher Nolan doesn’t concentrate enough one or two characters. They’re wrong: the large number of characters Nolan follows, and the myriad stories he tells, along with the cutting from one to the other, add to the sense of chaos.
As far as I can remember, I have only walked out of three movies because of anxiety. I missed about five minutes of Black Swan (people having psychotic breakdowns upset me). I left during the cleansing of the Krakow ghetto in Schindler’s List (for a few minutes because I was dizzy from holding my breath, and I was six months pregnant and was worried about the effect on the baby). The Rocket Scientist ordered me out of Arachnophobia because I was curled into a ball and whimpering. Only in the last case did I not come back. (I saw Saving Private Ryan on television, or I’m sure I would have had to leave for part of that, too. I refused to see Terence Malick’s The Thin Red Line because I knew it would be too hard to watch, having had a father who served in the Pacific theater.)
I had to walk out of Dunkirk for a few minutes because I was developing a full-fledged anxiety attack. I was shaking and whimpering. I had to leave and do some deep breathing before I could come back. Even so, I spent a good chunk of the movie with either my eyes closed or a hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. Or both.
Hans Zimmer’s score was masterful. I have not heard a score that did as good a job of conveying dread and impending doom since Jaws. If he does not win an Oscar for best score that would be a crime. (Yes, I know it only July. I seriously doubt anyone is going to top Zimmer’s work here.)
In short, Dunkirk is a wonderful and terrible movie. Apparently part of the right wing condemns it for not showing war as noble and glorious, and that’s true, it doesn’t. That’s because war — even a war as important to the survival of democracy as World War II — isn’t noble and glorious, and Christopher Nolan understands that.
So, yes, definitely go see Dunkirk. Just don’t ask me to come along.