Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk: On War and Smiling

Writer Christopher Hooton at the Independent has penned a piece picking apart the trailer for the upcoming film Dunkirk, by director Christopher Nolan. 

He focuses on the perception that a particular extra in one shot who, he asserts, should be "look[ing] ominously at the sky" is instead "offering a sort of bemused smirk."

First off, I've watched the close up shot provided in his article a number of times. The "bemused smirk" is not as obvious or egregious as the weight of the article would imply.

But, more importantly, the whole premise of his article hinges on the claim of the author that he knows what should historically and accurately have been the emotional state of every single soldier standing on the beach at Dunkirk.

He claims to know what should be the correct emotional response of anyone and everyone under severe duress.

He writes, "His apparent cheeriness is quite unfortunate given his character is penned in by enemy forces."

First off, I simply don't see unambiguous "cheeriness" on the face of this extra. 

But, even if it were there and patently visible, it still remains reasonably within the inventory of a human to react to mortal danger with extreme emotions that are not, at first glance, in seeming concert with the gravity of the moment.

Think of the not uncommon phenomenon of laughing at funerals, when the expected emotion is only grief. In reality, people are capable of exhibiting a wide range of emotions in the face of various stresses, and laughter is potentially a healthy way to cope with extreme situations.

The fact that he is the single soldier in that segment of the shot who is turned toward the action should be an indication that he is acting under specific directions for the reaction he displays.

I have personally run from mortars in Mosul, Iraq. Maybe Mr. Hooten has also experienced something somehow akin to the terror of those who stood on the beach at Dunkirk. But if he had, it should have insulated him from judgement over the reaction others might have in such moments of dire duress.

In the final analysis, I don't see the "cheeriness" he claims to spot here. But even if it were there, I would not have concluded that the shot was therefore automatically an inauthentic view of the potential emotional responses those men might have had on that beach.