By Evelyn C. McDonald
Arts & Culture Reporter
December 13, 2017 3:00 p.m.
Since it’s the end of the year and cold, I thought I would tell you about my favorite movie of 2017. It’s “Dunkirk,” which has just been released on DVD. I admit to being skeptical about the film as the director, Christopher Nolan, is more famous for the dark Batman movies. However, a friend wanted to see it so I went and am very glad I did.
Not many movies center on a retreat. War movies in particular seem to be mostly about raging into battle against odds, sometimes nearly insurmountable, and triumphing. Dunkirk was about salvaging a defeat and not letting it turn into a rout. It’s a story of having one crisis after another and getting through it with spirit and ingenuity and luck.
The movie was much more restrained than I was expecting. There were battle scenes, yes, but there were few scenes of carnage. Nolan shifts the scene from the sea to the air to the land, chronicling the events that unfolded in each. There were the individual stories of some of the men waiting on the beaches, either to be rescued or to help rescue others. One soldier left the beach three times before he finally got onto the boat to take him to England.
There were the little boats, which have been hailed in other movies. The call went out all along the English coast for men with boats to either let the Navy have them or sail to France themselves to assist in the evacuation. Small boats were useful as they could get closer to the beaches. One such boat managed to avoid a German plane through an ingenious maneuver that really occurred during the operation.
For those of you who might be interested in learning more about Dunkirk, Walter Lord has written a book on the siege and evacuation, called The Miracle of Dunkirk. Lord gives us the events that led up to the British and French armies having to fight their way to Dunkirk as well as the evacuation itself. He addresses the complacency that led the Allies to believe the Germans would fight the same way as they did in World War I. That didn’t prove true and Dunkirk was the result.
The British military were hoping to rescue 30,000 or so from the beaches. In the end, they rescued ten times that many. In so doing, they maintained an army to fight for them. It is a heroic story and told so well. When you watch the movie, make note of the final scene with the RAF pilot. Nolan could have taken the approach of a lot of what passes for spectacle from Hollywood but he resisted. The effect is striking.
Evelyn McDonald moved to Fernandina Beach from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in 2006. Evelyn is vice-chair on the Amelia Center for Lifelong Learning and is on the Dean’s Council for the Carpenter Library at the UNF. Ms. McDonald has MS in Technology Management from the University of Maryland’s University College and a BA in Spanish from the University of Michigan.