Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"Dunkirk": My Review Of The Movie

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Dear C,

I saw "Dunkirk" over the weekend.

I was breath-taken by the opening scenes and, from stem to stern, found many of the movies vignettes exceptionally well done.

But whereas Nolan's goal (I think) was to bring people into the chaos of battle -- a battle being waged against hopelessly stacked odds -- I found that my own imagination (over the course of 60 years) had already generated - with a high degree of particularity - Nolan's vision.

I suspect that for most people Nolan performed the great service of "bringing to life" - with unprecedented suspense, apprehension and horror - a tragically commonplace human experience; the routine futility of war and how humans react when overtaken by fear of imminent demise.

But while Nolan was masterfully projecting his vision of battle onto the "conscious screen" of most viewers, I felt as if I was "dittoing" a pre-existing vision which I projected onto the screen "before" Nolan did.

And so, as much as I loved the innumerable "glimpses" that comprise most of the movie -- I was, for example, riveted by Mark Rylance's performance as a civilian skipper and everything that happened aboard his boat -- The Whole was somewhat "flat" for me, rather like the flatness of "the beach," always in the background framing the tale.

My overall reaction was perhaps what your s might be if I told you -- however brilliantly -- a story you already knew by heart.

Pax tecum


Follow-up dialogue with C:

On Wed, Jul 26, 2017, CH wrote:
It's a fairly common theme to complain of a sense of distance from the material in Nolan's work. But for me his visual and structural imagination enlivens the work rather than distances it. Perhaps it has to do with one's relationship to craftsmanship.

Dear C,

Thanks for your email.

I don't feel that Nolan's imagination distances me from his work.

And I am eager to acknowledge the brilliance of his craftsmanship.

Perhaps we diverge around the question of virtuosity -- a frequent manifestation of extraordinary craftsmanship.

Since I was a young man I found that virtuosity often "got in the way" of soulfulness.

That said, this wasn't my reaction to "Dunkirk."

Nolan's brilliant craftsmanship served the purpose of many "moments" - and served them awesomely. 

I must also say that in the heat of battle - where chaos rules - it might even be Nolan's transcendent genius to focus only (?) meaningful "moments." 

Perhaps I am prey to my instinctual human desire for "patterned meaning" at the micro- and macro-levels that reduces me to a kind of primordial desire for "something bigger."

For me, the "backdrop" -- the context -- was the beach itself... interminably long and featureless, punctuated by lots of people waiting in line. (As I write this, I recall the extraordinary "final" scene in which the British pilot coasts his plane all along that beach... then torches it... and finally, awaits capture (and probable death) with what I sensed as quiet joy.

I think "Dunkirk" deserves many Oscars and Nolan should be a Best Director nominee.

But I don't rate it as Best Movie. 

Even so, I will in no way be disappointed if it is nominated.

Pax tecum


PS As the plot thickens with my 9/11 conspiracist friend, I find myself continually pondering "divergence of view." Yesterday, I wrote: "As I grow older, I become increasingly aware that it is futile to try to explain/rationalize/prove any emotionally-charged "issue" that other people see/feel differently than I do." 

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