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“Dunkirk” was nom­i­nated for Best Film. | Flickr

As the Oscars draw near, so come musings about which film will win the Best Picture award, and this year nine movies are looking to claim the coveted gold man.

And while “Dunkirk” is about bringing men home, it shouldn’t bring home an Oscar for Best Picture. It lacks the char­acter devel­opment and backbone that ele­vates good movies to great ones.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved “Dunkirk” when I saw it in the­aters with my girl­friend, and I have to admit (because she will always hold it over me) that I cried just a sniffle. I think it was after the British com­mander, played by Kenneth Branagh, sees all of the English boats coming to save the sol­diers in an amazing display of patri­otism. He turns to another officer and says with perhaps the first smile of the film, “It’s home.”

In case you missed it, the movie follows the stories of three dif­ferent men involved in the evac­u­ation: First, a common soldier in the water at Dunkirk trying to escape to England. Second, an elderly British man crossing the channel on his own boat, and third, a Royal Air Force pilot in a Spitfire shooting German dive bombers.

The valor and the courage of each of these char­acters over­whelmed me, along with the swelling music and the heart­warming shots of men in boats with Union Jacks flying high behind them. Indeed, the bravery depicted in the film is inspiring in any age, and well worth remem­bering in our own.

The movie focuses on the emo­tions of war and the mil­itary miracle that occurred at Dunkirk rather than the spe­cific people; it pro­vides a broad scope rather than the gritty inter­per­sonal drama that often dom­i­nates the silver screen, espe­cially the award-winning films.

But we see our­selves more in the small con­flicts between people than in large con­flicts such as war. Most of us have had a fight with someone or felt wronged emo­tionally or left dev­as­tated by the failings of another. Few of us, however, have had the expe­rience of bat­tling a nameless, faceless enemy.

So while “Dunkirk” does a good job of bringing you into the moment of des­per­ation, it doesn’t really say any­thing about people, about who we are, though it does speak volumes for the men in that time and their heroism and freedom.

Their heroism is what kept Britain from falling to the Nazis, and the film cap­tures that: Never in my life have I wanted to be British or respected the British people as much as I did during the movie. The depic­tions of war and the hope­lessness of the sit­u­ation create a massive sense of relief upon the success of the oper­ation.

But there has to be more than heroism and emo­tional impact for a movie to become truly great. There has to be more than great victory to win an Oscar for Best Picture. There ought to be reflec­tions or insights into human nature along with a cap­ti­vating story.

For this, you need char­acter devel­opment, but in the movie we aren’t even given any char­acters’ names. There’s no one you can really look back at and say, “I iden­tified with that char­acter.”

Inter­per­sonally, it falls flat com­pared to films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Hurt Locker.” Both war movies achieve a sense of victory and national pride for mil­itary heroes, yet they do it through char­acters with whom the audience sym­pa­thizes.

“Dunkirk” fails to achieve an entire end of drama which is, as Aris­totle says in his “Poetics,” con­necting the audience with the char­acters through sym­pathy. The rela­tionship the audience has with the pro­tag­onist in his struggles and suc­cesses is para­mount in the effect of the film.

Unfor­tu­nately, the bird’s-eye-view that director Christopher Nolan uses doesn’t allow for a real bond between the viewer and the heroes. Moments in the film border on relata­bility, but only in the sense of duty or patri­otism, and these are few and far between.

In sum, these moments don’t add up to a great movie, despite all the swells of emotion and sound and stormy waves of the English Channel. They add up to a good movie, one that depicts only a mil­itary oper­ation, not the workings of the human heart.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    The British were coura­geous at Dunkirk and after­wards, but con­trary to popular belief Britain wasn’t the ‘only nation fighting the NAZI’s in europe at that time’. Greece turned back the Italian invasion in 1940/41 and then was simul­ta­ne­ously invaded by 4 AXIS powers-Italy, Germany, Bul­garia and Albania. With assis­tance from the British the Greeks fought a rear-guard action down the length of that nation, embarking from Pireaus Habor and moving the fight to Crete-where they con­tinued fighting the Germans, for­mally and infor­mally. In point of fact, Greece never sur­ren­dered as a nation and they delayed Hitler’s Wehrmacht from invading Russia in 1941 by 6 critical weeks. Stalin later noted that delay resulted in the eventual stopping and turning back of the German forces by Russia.