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The film is not directly about the Holocaust, but I think its depiction of the Germans breaks through that tired old "morality play" version of the war. One notable aspect of the movie is that the word 'Jew' or 'Jewish' make zero appearances, which itself may be a basis for an accusation of anti-Semitism, given that the Holocaust was the central event of WWII . So I do think the film has implications for Holocaust Revisionism in general.
Here is a little review I wrote which first tries to sketch out how the Germans are depicted and then gets a little speculative on the possible politics of the film:
[Review and Analysis of Dunkirk]
Dunkirk's Honorable Depiction of the Germans: A Political Analysis
History films are inevitably subject to controversies over how "historically accurate" they are. There is relatively limited material to work with on this front in Dunkirk, because it is mainly focused on action and little "history" is really shown, though some is alluded to (one high-ranking British officer to another, in the first minutes of Dunkirk, in a line easy to miss and that is not followed up upon at all, says that the enemy's tanks had all "stopped," a reference to the theory, widely believed, that the Germans 'allowed' the British to escape as a peace gesture).
What sets Dunkirk apart from other WWII movies is its depiction (or lack of depiction) of the Germans. This rather transcends any "historical accuracy" discussion, or at least recasts it. Certainly, objectively I think, "the Germans" at the battle for Dunkirk were not evil, if by "the Germans" we mean the men at the front, the regular soldiers and officers. If there were "evil" people in the Third Reich, surely a rational accuser would point to the political leadership and not to the men in the field or the entire nation. Yet the Germans, all the Germans (more or less), seem always and inevitably to be depicted as evil by Hollywood WWII movies. Not so by Dunkirk.
Dunkirk essentially never even shows a single German solider, though their presence is always implied, nor does it depict their part in the battle as 'evil.' The word 'German' occurs maybe once or twice in the entire film (the Germans are otherwise referred to as "the enemy," but generally are simply not referenced), and omits the word 'Nazi' entirely. This is remarkable. The dramatized attacks on the British beachhead at Dunkirk and on the boats and airplanes, are depicted almost as natural disaster, as if the British and other Allied troops were going through a serious tropical hurricane, with German shells and bombs more akin to downpours of heavy wind and rain; fast-approaching German planes as fast-approaching dark storm clouds...
On the other hand, we see several scenes of direct, angry confrontations between soldiers of various nationalities on the Allied side (British vs. French; British vs. Dutch; British vs. British), the distinguishing feature of many of these being that no one can tell who is who. I find this to be a very important point with regards to any political analysis of the film. In fact, this "unclarity of who is good and who is bad" is knocked home by the fact that <possible spoiler> the one main character we unambiguously and definitely killed on screen, a British lad racing to Dunkirk with his father on their civilian vessel, is done in by a stranded English sailor whom they pick up and who, in a temporarily insane rage (from shell shock), knocks the lad out and kills him. </possible spoiler>
In other words, the "Bad Guy" in this film is not the Germans, but rather the situation, the war itself.
The very last words on screen tell us that the film is dedicated "to all those whose lives were affected by the events at Dunkirk." This very neutral language not only fails to "bash Germans" but actually can be seen to include the (unseen-on-screen) Germans, by implication.
What were the political motivations of the filmmaker here? Christopher Nolan (b. 1970 in England) wrote, co-produced, and directed Dunkirk) and he was clearly not motivated by a hatred of the Germans. I think Nolan had the courage here to recast WWII-in-the-West as a chaotic European brother war, a tragedy, rather than as another tired, boring anti-German "morality play." Tragedies are better art than morality plays, for one thing.
If the film is or contains a metaphor for international politics of the entire period, I think it is this: Despite heroism on all sides, the war in the West, certainly at that phase (June 1940), was fought in a cloud of political "nebulousness," a chaotic political situation of unclear mutual grievances and unclear war objectives. In a sense, in 1939 and 1940, it was unclear who the enemy even was and why (personified on screen in Dunkirk not just by the fact that the Germans were never seen, but also by the fact that many scenes show inter-Allied disputes on the beaches and boats, some of lethal variety). A Brother War.
This is a highly metaphorical reading of the film, of course, as nothing like "international politics" is ever addressed in the film at all; Neither the word 'Hitler' nor 'Churchill,' are ever uttered once. Although one character reads the 'Fight on the Beaches' speech from a newspaper at the end, one has to already know that this was Churchill's speech; a Sri Lankan, say, with minimal awareness of European WWII history, viewing Dunkirk today, may imagine the 'Fight on the Beaches' that this one character is reading to another back in England, comes from some ancient poet of Rome or Greece...
Thus, one reading of Dunkirk is that it is a seminal film in the recasting of WWII-in-the-West towards the (today-understood) political terms that we attribute to World War One, i.e., heroism-on-the-field amid serious political failure; as a kind of European fratricide for which there was a curious lack of real grievances between belligerents; as, ultimately, a tragedy. This is, perhaps, the better way to understand WWII-in-the-West from 1939 to 1945, anyway. Long overdue.
ginger wrote:Thanks for the review - I've seen advertisements for the movie and thought it was another way to highlight the evil of the Germans and indirectly remind us of the Holocaust - but it sounds like a thoughtful movie on the chaos of war. I've read that Hitler allowed the English invasion force escape - he didn't want war with England but rather wanted England as an ally. It would be interesting to know what led up to Dunkirk - which turned out to be a very bad idea on the part of the English.
To me it appeared like a pro-patriotism movie for Englishmen. Pommies saving their countrymen from destruction by an anonymized enemy. But exactly that may turn out as an interesting turn in the movie-picture world.
I should add that I don't see the movie from a Holocaust Angle at all, more in the way of perhaps not so accurate portrayal off world war two events. Hence I opened a thread with a movie review and video discussing the movie in the WW2 section:
Whatever truth is in that, certainly stands in contrast to the glorified English propaganda.
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