Movie Review: Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ – WWII’s Cinematic Brilliance

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The Evolution of ‘Dunkirk’: Told from Air, Land, and Sea

In May 1940, Allied troops were flanked by Germany on the Shores of Dunkirk, France. Although safety was just a skip across the channel, troops could not get there, the waters were too shallow for warships, and the channel was flooded with German U-boats. The troops’ only hope was the fleet of 700 civilian boats, which were making their way from Ramsgate, England. Christopher Nolan’s newest war film is a cinematography masterpiece, developing a story from multiple perspectives.

Dunkirk is a forever evolving plot not from one main character’s perspective but from 3 different perspectives, “Air, land, and sea,” Which are intercut perfectly between each other, overlapping from three separate but overlapping spans of time. The plot is amazingly put together, evolving chronologically, nearing closer to the arrival of help. It is a deep and rich story of not war or fighting but the simple act of not dying.

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Heroism Beyond Combat: The Selflessness of WWII Era

The story begins with a young British soldier who goes by the name of Fionn Whitehead, who is on his way to the shores of Dunkirk. His journey takes course over the timespan of a week, hiding from German artillery and fire. Upon arrival at the beach, he is hit with the image of thousands of soldiers stretched across the beach, most alive, many dead, sitting and waiting for a rescue that may or may not arrive.

Next up in the storyline is the introduction of a British civilian accompanied by his son and nephew, who want to show their worth and fight for the cause. Their storyline lasts over the course of a day, and they are part of the “Little Ships of Dunkirk.” Next up is a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot who fights against the Luftwaffe “German Airforce” trying to protect the men beneath him. This activity takes a course of over an hour. Occasionally, these narratives intertwine, but most often, they just offer a different view of the story.

This film is the epitome of human decency of the WWII era. Mark Rylance and his helpers rescue Cillian Murphy, a shell-shocked German soldier who was stranded in the ocean whilst his plane sank. However, this was a fatal decision for George, who received brain trauma from Cillian in a fit caused by his shell shock. Another example of these heroic and selfless acts is from the “Air” point-of-view; “Farrier stays over Dunkirk much longer than his fuel reserve allows him to in order to protect the ships and embarking soldiers, contently knowing he won’t make it back home, landing in enemy territory and most likely being gunned down.”

Nolan’s Take: A Refreshing Approach Beyond Traditional War Narratives

Another example “as stated by, a French soldier impersonating a dead British soldier to gain priority for the evacuation later wanders off once aboard and finds a hatch, later on in the story he uses said hatch to save other soldier from drowning on the hospital ship.”

This film reflects a lot on the values of the U.S. as a country and the British Empire at the time of WWII. Most notable is the selflessness shown by the heroes depicted in the film. Just as they put everything on the line, FDR was also willing to make sacrifices to aid in the effort, “As shown, I recommend that we make it possible for those nations to continue to obtain war materials in the United States, fitting their orders into our own program. Nearly all their materiel would, if the time ever came, be useful for our own defense.” Just as the heroes sacrificed their all for the greater good of the world, FDR understood the importance of eliminating any chance of Germany’s victory.

All in all, this film was produced extremely well, taking a leap away from the average “War” movie and depicting the heroic acts of the few, and the pride, shooting, and killing weren’t all there was to WWII. Many laid down their lives for the safety and freedom of others in a selfless act for the greater good. Christopher Nolan portrayed that effortlessly, and his cinematography prowess really shined in this film. I believe most people will enjoy this film due to its unique outtake on WWII, lack of violence, and a multi-perspective and intertwining storyline that develops a rich plot.


  1. Nolan, C. (Director). (2017). Dunkirk. Warner Bros.
  2. Churchill, W. (1940). Their Finest Hour. Speech delivered to the House of Commons.
  3. Hastings, M. (2011). Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945. Knopf.
  4. Seidler, A. (2009). The Little Ships of Dunkirk: 1940. Pen & Sword Books Ltd.
  5. Garrett, R. (2016). The RAF in the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain: A Reappraisal of Army and Air Policy 1938–1940. Routledge.

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Movie Review: Nolan's 'Dunkirk' - WWII's Cinematic Brilliance. (2023, Aug 30). Retrieved from

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