Jake made a compelling argument. Not only was Dunkirk killing it on Rotten Tomatoes, but it was a Christopher Nolan movie. I’ve been in love with Nolan films since Memento. Yes, Dunkirk was a war movie, and I generally avoid war movies. But Jake said, “It’s rated PG-13. It can’t be that bad!” Plus, two of the stars were Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, and I want to have a hundred of Cillian Murphy’s babies (metaphorically).
Saturday, I agreed to spend a rainy afternoon watching a critically acclaimed war movie from one of my favorite directors starring a two men who take my breath away. Sure, why not?
Oh, what a mistake.
I was okay for a while. Sitting in the darkened theater, eating my popcorn, I didn’t start freaking out until about halfway through. There was a very claustrophobic scene involving a bunch of young men trapped underwater, and I lost my shit. I think I hid it well. I cried silently and covered my eyes. Nobody noticed the woman falling apart at the Willoughby Regal Cinema.
It got worse. Popcorn forgotten, I watched the rest of the movie while hiding behind my hands. Then, things escalated. Following an abrupt ending, the credits rolled. Jake, eyes alight with Nolan’s brilliance, turned to ask, “What did you think?”
I started sobbing. I hate crying in public. Hate it. Jake grabbed my hand and guided me back to the parking lot. I hid behind my sunglasses. Once in the passenger seat, in the privacy of my own car, I really let go until I was a sniveling, hiccuping mess. I said it over and over: “I can’t do war movies. I just can’t. I can’t.”
Saturday was destroyed. No matter that we went shopping and ate wings at my favorite dive bar, I was still trapped underwater, struggling for breath. I drank enough beer to surface, but I still feel Dunkirk today and its lingering effects. I woke up sad.
I recently read a brilliant novella by Em Shotwell called “Forget Me Not” that really messed me up. In a good way. Follow me on this.
One of the lead characters in “Forget Me Not,” Rex, has the ability to never forget anything. When he’s sent off to Vietnam, it’s horrible because every death, every terror, is burned onto his brain. The horror of war is with him forever. In “Forget Me Not,” watching a lovable character crash and burn is painful. Watching what war does to a beautiful, innocent man like Rex made me want to curl into a little ball.
Shotwell does an excellent job of bringing Rex back from the edge, but many soldiers aren’t so lucky. As is the case in Dunkirk, many soldiers don’t even come home. Many of the ones who did (see Cillian Murphy’s character), came back totally messed up.
Nolan did a brilliant job in Dunkirk of using the minimum dialogue to address huge issues. For example, Cillian Murphy’s character, who escaped what we presume was a sunken battleship, won’t go below deck on the ship that rescues him. Shell shock forces him to sit outside, covering his ears. Much of the communication between actors is done through eye contact and nothing more. The cinematography makes me suspect Nolan is actually a wizard, because how else did he get some of those shots? The score is like a constant time bomb, ticking away as one young man after another is killed. (Tick-tock-tick …)
Dunkirk was a fantastic movie, and it’s the last war movie I will ever see because I can’t do this to myself anymore. There were beautiful moments of hope, bravery, and friendship, but those moments weren’t enough to make me feel glad I spent my Saturday afternoon crying.
Jake made a good point: it’s important to know history, especially for younger generations. My counter argument: an internet search won’t have such long-lasting effects on me. Like Rex in “Forget Me Not,” flashes of the film still scream through my head. I still see the dead bodies and the wild, panicked look in Cillian Murphy’s eyes. (I joked with my mom this morning that if my beloved Benedict Cumberbatch had played the same role, I would probably still be crying. Like, forever.)
I don’t understand war. I know it must be fought, but I don’t understand how young men can so easily kill other young men just because some general tells them to. Dunkirk portrayed how quickly we turn on each other in the name of survival. It showed the honor of battle but also its fruitlessness. The movie busted a bigger hole in my chest: a hole that’s been growing for years the more I watch the news. Dunkirk was brilliant, but I know when enough is enough. I wish I could say the same about the world.