Sunday, January 28, 2018
When resilience turns a defeat into a resilient victory
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN – DUNKIRK – 2017
This film is essentially a visual story that tells us how the battle of Dunkirk, or rather the heroic defeat of Dunkirk went, and it went very badly. 400,000 soldiers, English, French and Belgian or even Dutch encircled in Dunkirk and completely besieged till the end.
For the Germans, it was just a question of killing as many as possible while trying to escape and taking those who did not try to escape too much into the slavery of some labor camps, war prisoner camps or whatever they were called. Arbeit macht frei, as we know and worked they were well obliged to do.
For the French, it was only a question of resilience and resistance that started straight away, called for by De Gaulle and mainly by the left with the Communists in the heart of it, in spite of what will be said later.
For the English, the question was only know how many fighters they would be able to save and take to England, fighters that could be integrated into the English armed forces straight away. So the priority was on English survivors who had to be taken on ships, but many were sunk by airplanes or by submarines, and then by smaller ships, mostly private that were requisitioned by Churchill. The last element in this war was the role of the Royal Air Force that was supposed to bring down as many German planes as possible and thus enable the escapees on their ships and boats to make it across the Channel in the least unsafe way possible, with as many survivors as possible.
Historically this battle was essential to demonstrate the power of the Germans and send a tsunami of fear all over the world. At the same time this battle was essential because even if it did not stop the Germans, it prepared the English side of the channel to be ready for the Blitz that was to come and for the RAF to win it, and win it they did.
But why a film about this battle today? To revive the memories of people who are less and less direct witness of the war and the generation born after the war and raised in the spirit of the war are in process of retiring and will soon be in the process of disappearing. But the younger generation may have to learn about it, but learn about it in its absolute horror, and that is a great point to note about this film. It centers everything, every scene on the suffering of the men trapped in that dead-end place. It is also maybe necessary to just remind all politicians in Europe that this continent has had peace for a long time because the French and the German were able to sign a treaty in the early 60s that brought reconciliation and cooperation between the two countries, a treaty that was signed by De Gaulle who had been an essential leader of the resistance during the war and Adenauer who had lived through more than just the war, also the whole post First World War period in Germany meaning the absurd rivalry between the Communists and the Social-Democrats that left the gate to power open for Hitler to come and just pick the fruit. A meager thirty plus percent “majority” enabled Hitler to defeat the two main left parties who actually had a majority in the country. That is not brought back in this film but maybe some younger people will be curious enough to look for more data about how and why Hitler seized power in the best democratic way. After his victory democracy was very fast buried, but the first step was a democratic victory in the country.
But the most striking element in this film is, of course, the depicting of suffering, fear, resignation, resilience, hope maybe even in the very heart of the certainty of death had finally come. Pain is beautiful when it is not gratuitous. Some may say that war was senseless. The way it was fought in 1940 was absolutely amazingly meaningless. But once you reach Dunkirk the possible options are very limited and the suffering of the soldiers taken in that trap like as many rats reveals the humanity and the faith of these men in the existence somewhere maybe of peace, justice, and plain humanity.
A beautiful moment of sad awareness.