In the last few weeks, a lot has been written about Dunkirk, the WWII movie depicting the evacuation of allied forces from the beaches of Dunkerque, France.
I say allied forces, because, from the beach along with British soldiers, French, Polish and others were also moved to safety.
Fascinated with 20th century military history, I found the film profoundly touching.
Therefore, was a bit surprised when I came across several scathing articles which seemed to rate it as a second-grade war film.
Some even lamented the lack of enough action, blood, and strewn body parts on the beaches.
Perhaps this is not the kind of war film which we have seen in the past, solely for fun and thrill.
I mean, when we think of WW2 movies, we think of Guns of Navarone, where a group of specially-trained men is sent to blow up massive guns in a heavily-guarded place.
Or like in Where Eagles Dare, a film that depicted a mountain-top fascist hideout to be infiltrated by allied agents played by Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, or Dirty Dozen, or Escape to Athena, or even Von Ryan’s Express -- we think of war as sort of entertainment.
Dunkirk, in my view, is not the film to fit into the template of the formulaic WWII movie.
Not about war at all
Yes, if you are dying for some ace dogfights over the English Channel shown in colour and in graphic detail with the machine guns on the Spitfire in full action, you won’t be disappointed -- though look closely, the actions have an undertone of grimness about them.
The planes sent to intercept the enemy aircraft strafing ships bringing soldiers back to England have a tough task ahead, and it’s not winning a war but saving lives.
Dunkirk is not the everyday war film which you watch sitting on the sofa on a weekend and then doze off.
This is a poignant tale of how a miracle happened at the beginning of the Second World War and what role the general people played in saving their army.
For exploding bodies and gore, there’s always Tarantino; this movie has far deeper nerves to touch -- the tale of human survival and the general instinct among the common man to rise above the ordinary, and take up a daunting task.
A movie celebrating the ordinary man
The premise of Dunkirk is possibly known to all: During the fall of France, the allied forces were retreating and 400,000 soldiers were stranded on the beach.
The enemy forces were fast moving towards them and, at such a moment, several miracles were needed to save the soldiers.
The first happened when the enemy juggernaut halted because, according to history, they wanted to consolidate their positions first, which gave a little more than a two-day window for the soldiers on the beach to escape and live to fight another day.
This intrepid drive strikes a chord with our own history, because, if we look back to 1971, we will find countless tales of common villagers coming to the aid of freedom fighters, who often had to rely on clandestine help from rural people
But who would save them? Without enough ships it was the common man with his boat, many used for pleasure, others for fishing or trade, which formed the flotilla of deliverance.
Without any weapons, these small boats headed towards the beach to bring back the stranded. Dunkirk is about these unknown men who were never celebrated as the true heroes in recent movies.
Not unlike our own story
This intrepid drive strikes a chord with our own history, because, if we look back to 1971, we will find countless tales of common villagers coming to the aid of freedom fighters, who often had to rely on clandestine help from rural people in Bangladesh for food, shelter, and, sometimes, emergency medical help.
In several of our Liberation War films, we see common villagers shielding wounded freedom fighters, village fishermen doing their bit in helping the independence struggle with boats and other means.
Despite some necessary action scenes, I would say there is another leitmotif to the movie which is anti-war.
There are films which, with their relentless action, raise the belligerent instinct in us -- Dunkirk is an exception.
Deep within there is an inherent message of pacifism. It triggers introspection.
Those who went to watch mayhem were certainly disappointed.
Sorry to say, a lot of others in the theatre hall didn’t have a clue as to what they were watching because history of the 20th century is not something which many read nowadays.
Goes to show the appalling sense of past events, especially ones which defined the 20th century.
The film depicts the return of more than 330,000 soldiers, a miracle fulfilled, and I felt that in Dunkirk’s ultimate message of hope lies the resolute forward path of a country which is now embarking on a new road ahead.
A terrific film celebrating the human spirit, compassion, and duty.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.