A good year for Dunkirk

There used to be this cultural trope where 2 films on the same subject came out and usually 1 was poop and 1 was good or people picked sides. Deep Impact/Armageddon. Both poop but Armageddon was at least funny. Volcano/Dante’s Peak. Yet again neither was great Dante’s Peak was kind of exciting. Saving Private Ryan/Thin Red Line. Both great by legendary directors but one was arthouse.

The best example is Tombstone/Wyatt Earp. Tombstone is the final word on the Cinematic Earp saga and Wyatt Earp might be the worst western ever made.

In any case this does still happen from time to time. This year there were two great films about the Dunkirk evacuation. Their Finest and Dunkirk.

And if I’m being honest they’re both pretty much perfect films for what they are. They are both remarkably unique films. There really isn’t anything like either one. But one of them is crazy oscar bait and the other is a bitter sweet minor classic.

And here’s the thing. Dunkirk is probably the best film as a film that Nolan has made. It is perfect. It does things with perspective and time, it is deeply moving, impactful and most amazingly breezes past. For a war film with essentially 0 action this film feels like 30 minutes have gone by.

And it’s probably the only Nolan film I will never buy. He is my favorite director. I think he will be the greatest film maker to ever live when all is said and done. He entertains and thrills like Hitchcock but supersedes Kubrick in visual perfection and intellectual sophistication. He innovates like Welles and controls his vision like Ford. He makes money like Spielberg and with the intense tragedy of Kurosawa.

Unless he dies soon, decides to retire or gets lazy, I don’t see how anyone else will ever be all that he has become. David Fincher and Aronofsky are the only others even trailing in his wake presently.

But I have no desire to see Dunkirk ever again. I think it is one of the most perfect films I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. But it’s hollow…?

No that’s not right. I was thinking maybe it’s like Citizen Kane, a hollow masterpiece. But no it’s deeply moving and rousing. Which is strange because there are really no true characters in the film. England is the character. The little hobbit inside every Briton who loves the simple pleasures of life but when destiny calls they always answer.

But it strikes at the soul like a propaganda film with none of the slime left on your skin. And maybe that is why I do not see myself watching it again. Because the only kind of propaganda that isn’t gross is true propaganda. And Dunkirk feels so real that I almost feel as if I have left it behind just as the English and French left it behind. As if it is now truly in the past.

Whereas Their Finest is fun and light. There is darkness and reality there as well, but that film was delightful. Despite its awkward attempts to be feminist it told a human story. With romance and comedy. I will probably own and watch Their Finest for the rest of my life.

But Dunkirk is one of those rare event art films.

The difference beteeen these films is the difference between The Revenant and Birdman. Both excellent films by the same director. Both won best picture. I only own one of those films. Birdman is the sort of film you can watch over and over. The Revenant is the sort of film you only watch once.

I don’t often write about films that I think are bad. So most of the reviews I give are 8-10/10. And I give both these a 10/10. I’m just puzzled by how such an amazing film does not scream at me to be rewatched.


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