Dunkirk: A Different Sort of War Movie

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with World War II.  I’m reasonably sure I read every book on the war in the library of every school I attended.  Some of them multiple times!  The aviation of World War II has always been my focus, but I find it all interesting.  I suppose it is just natural for me to love World War II movies!  I grew up watching the likes of John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Lee Marvin save the world from the dastardly Nazis and Japanese and preserve democracy for us all.  Those movies were great, full of patriotic themes and unbridled pride in America and the American soldier.  In my opinion, the release of Saving Private Ryan in 1998 changed the war movie genre.  This movie certainly had its moments of pure I-love-America goodness, but it made the soldiers human.  It showed you their stress and their fear.  It showed you the moral dilemmas faced by soldiers in combat, who often had to make agonizing decisions as they tried to survive on the battlefield.  It was emotional, gritty, and at times, hard to watch.  In my opinion, Saving Private Ryan is the pinnacle of the World War II movie.  It was soon followed by Band of Brothers and The Pacific, both epic series which further humanized our heroes, making them that much more heroic.

Dunkirk is the newest movie set during World War II.  It is a different sort of movie.  The movie is set during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France in late May and early June 1940.  Over 300,000 British and Allied troops were pushed to the French port town of Dunkirk by the advancing German army.  Boats ranging from Royal Navy destroyers to private fishing vessels were used to pull the troops off the beach and the breakwaters at Dunkirk to transport them back to England.  The troops were subjected to constant air raids by the Luftwaffe while totally exposed on the beach or crammed onto the decks of ships.  It was a desperate time, and it is no stretch to say had the Germans been able to wipe out the British, the war in Europe would have turned out differently.

The film focuses on three separate groups of people over different, but converging, periods of time.  A pair of soldiers trapped on the beach are the central characters.  Over the course of a week, it follows their herculean efforts to get on a boat and survive.  In order to get as many men off the beach as quickly as possible, the British government put out a call for civilian boat owners to travel across the English Channel and pick up as many as possible.  Dunkirk features the owner of a small yacht as he and his son make their way toward Dunkirk over the course of one day.  The third set of characters are two Royal Air Force Spitfire pilots who are trying to protect the ships in the harbor and the men on the beach.  Their story covers one hour.  The non-linear timeline takes a bit to grasp, but it plays out well and comes together nicely in the end.

I won’t go into specific scenes as I’m sure many of you have yet to see the movie.  I don’t want to be the spoiler!  I will tell you, however, there were numerous times when I found myself holding my breath!  The movie is tense throughout, but that is appropriate and accurate.  Put yourself in the boots of a young British soldier at Dunkirk.  You’ve been beaten back by the German army, which seemed unstoppable at that point in time.  You’re hungry, exhausted, and stuck on a beach in full view of marauding Luftwaffe bombers.  You expect the Germans to arrive at any time.  Your only hope of seeing home again is getting on a ship or a boat which could still be sunk by a u-boat or bomber.  The movie captures that stress as much as any movie could.  The soundtrack plays a large part in conveying the tension, both with music and sound effects.  At times, the music is a heart beat.  At other times, it is a clock ticking.  It is always effective.  The terrifying shriek of the siren on the Stuka dive bomber added a satisfying realism and convinced me that the director and his staff did their homework.

This brings me to the technical aspects of the movie.  One of the things I really hate is when the wrong equipment and machines are used for a movie set at a specific time.  It would be like watching a western with the hero carrying the latest polymer frame semi auto pistol! Anachronisms make it very hard for me to enjoy a movie.  Dunkirk avoided this as near as I can tell.  I’m no expert on early war British equipment, but they were all shown carrying proper Enfield rifles, their helmets were correct, and their kits at least looked appropriate.  Another thing which displeases me is when aircraft are portrayed breaking the laws of physics.  High performance aircraft such as the British Spitfire were capable of amazing things in the hands of a skilled pilot, but some things are just not possible.  For example, watch Red Tails sometime (if you can stand it) and you’ll see what I mean.  In contrast, the flight sequences in Dunkirk were extremely well done.  It appeared they were able to use real aircraft rather than computer generated ones.  I suppose it is harder to make a real aircraft do impossible things than a computer generated one!

As you have probably determined by now, I think Dunkirk is an excellent movie.  It is entertaining, compelling, and tells the story of human beings doing heroic things.  The characters are not flawless or larger than life, but they are relatable and believable.  Given the political climate in Hollywood these days, I am always concerned when a new war movie comes out.  There was no need to worry about Dunkirk.  It tells the story with obvious respect for those who were there.  I detected no effort to revise the history or insert any particular agenda, which is as it should be.  If you are a fan of war movies in general, you will definitely like this movie.  Even if you’re not, you will still enjoy it.  Go see it on the big screen.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Two types…

 Copied below is a “note” I published on social media a few years ago, with a link to the original post.  After being reminded of it recently, I decided to bring it here with minor revisions and invite discussion. What are your thoughts?

July 31, 2011 at 7:11pm

 The more I think about it, the more I feel there are two basic types of people when it comes to the concept of government. Apart, of course, from those who feel themselves to be the elite who must stand in control of us poor intellectually-challenged souls desperately needing their benevolence lest we plunge headlong into barbarism and anarchy (ahem — Washington D.C., cough, cough). Furthermore, I grow to feel that coexistence may not entirely be possible for these two types. At this point in time, I’m not sure what to call them; Victor/Victim, Contributor/Drain, Independent/Dependent, or something else entirely. Ask yourself these few questions, and decide for yourself where you may lie. Decidedly on one side, or somewhere in the very narrow space between. Is there a space between?

Life is tough — upon whom do you rely?

Do you stand resolute that through your work, your faith, and your determination you can live a successful life? Do you feel solving your problems should first be done by you? Are you eager to stand on your own two feet, beholden to no person or institution? Do you find it offensive when others insist they know best how to spend your money and live your life? Do you take the concept of personal responsibility seriously, and feel it is becoming far too rare? Do you find the thought of NOT doing what you can to provide for you and yours abhorrent and irresponsible? Do you find being forced to contribute to that which you do not agree to be robbery? Do you feel your safety and security is primarily your responsibility?

Does a just government grant rights or acknowledge them? Do you know the difference?

Do you feel it is the responsibility of others to assure you a certain minimum level of provision? Do you look to society to right the wrongs which may have befallen you? Do you think because others may have much, they somehow owe some of it to others and should be forced to do so? Do you think your personal safety and security is primarily the government’s responsibility? Can you allow another to live in a way you find disagreeable as long as they do you no harm? Do you feel others must be controlled by force of law because of what they MIGHT do? Have you ever uttered the phrase “…there ought to be a law!” ? Have you ever thought “I am (fill-in-the-blank), so I should receive special treatment”? Do you look to others to solve your problems?

Which paragraph describes you more accurately? Which type do you think makes for a stronger society?

An Open Letter to Police Officers


I’m writing this post for you today because I am tired of hearing about your brothers and sisters in blue being killed simply for doing your job. I’m tired of the disrespect and suspicion shown you by the press and some members of the public. I want you to know they don’t speak for the majority of us, and certainly not for me.

I read with horror the story about New York City Police Officer Miosoti Familia’s death on Wednesday. She was stationed in a mobile command center on a dangerous street in the Bronx when a recent parolee walked up to her window and shot her in the head. Thankfully for the tax payers of New York, he was shot and killed later as other officers tried to apprehend him.  Officer Familia was 48 years old and had been on the force for 12 years. She left behind a 20 year old daughter, 12 year old twins, and an elderly mother for whom she cared. She was not involved in a felony arrest or even a traffic stop.  She was simply monitoring a street, trying to keep local citizens safe. She had no connection to the parolee. Her only transgression was wearing the uniform and being on duty at that particular time and place.

Crimes like Officer Familia’s assassination have become far too common.  Already in 2017, 28 officers have died due to violence in the line of duty.  That figure represents 41.8 percent of the 67 officers which have died this year. But more seriously, it represents a trend toward the targeting of officers for no other reason than they represent the police. Last year saw several attacks on officers, most notably the sniper attack in Dallas which killed five officers and wounded seven more, as well as a similar incident in Baton Rouge which left three officers dead. Both shooters claimed to be angry about the treatment of black people by white police officers. That’s an odd motive since slain Baton Rouge Police Officer Montrell Jackson happened to be black. I think the more important color in both cases was blue. Police blue.

Officers, I was raised to respect you and to seek you out in times of need. I was raised to be respectful of you regardless of the nature of our interaction.  I’ve had positive and negative interactions over the years, but I’ve always tried my best to show you respect. Today, it has become acceptable to hate, and even attack, police officers as a form of protest over perceived abuses. This was inevitable, given a national administration prone to instantly and publicly blame you after any instance where an officer killed a suspect. It didn’t matter the facts were yet to be known about the case. It didn’t matter that the involved officer’s life, as far he knew it, was about to be over. It didn’t matter that he might have been saving the lives of others as well as his own. All that mattered was making political hay out if it by fanning the flames of divisiveness and racial hatred. Of course, the true believers in the press were perfectly happy to assist by showing partial cell phone videos, interviews with crying relatives, and cherubic photographs of the smiling victim. Never mind that smiling kid had just tried to take the officer’s gun. All of this then became the constant news cycle loop for days, followed by detailed coverage of the protests and statements by Eric Holder condemning the police. Miosoti Familia got press coverage for one day. All of these ingredients have created a fetid stew of hatred which is now being acted out in violence toward all of you.

I’m sure your work is very satisfying. Helping people, protecting them everyday must be fulfilling and why most of you do it. I can think of no higher calling. But it comes at a high cost. Every day when you put on your badge, you know today could be your last day, your end of watch. That’s true for all of us, but your odds are higher when you run toward the gunfire instead of away from it. The courage it takes to do your job leaves me in awe. Every day, you see people on their very worst day. You are expected to maintain a level of professionalism in the face of everything from disrespect to homicidal rage few can muster and you are not allowed to make a mistake. Not one. Every action will be critiqued, second-guessed, and likely tried in the court of public opinion if not a court of law. Even when it is proven you acted properly, your career could still be over. And, you do all of this for meager pay and very little appreciation from those you protect.

I want you to know there are many, many of us who have the utmost respect for you and appreciate the sacrifices  you and your families make to keep our streets safe. I want you to know what is shown on cable news is not representative of how most of us feel. Most of us are more likely to buy you a cup of coffee or pay for your lunch than to swing a fist at you. I know you make mistakes. I know you accept the fact that if you make a mistake which costs someone their life, you are held accountable. But you deserve justice, just like anyone else. It is a sad state of affairs that finds us at time where the badge makes you a target. Please keep your head on a swivel, be safe, and know you are appreciated and respected.  If necessary, I and many others have your back. Thank you!

Paul G. Avery

The Frustrated Americans