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Spoiler Space: Dunkirk

Photo: Warner Bros.

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot points we can’t reveal in our review.

Here is an interesting fact: Dunkirk is the first Christopher Nolan movie in which the fragmented, loopy storytelling doesn’t have some kind of subjective explanation, like a fading memory (Memento) or a mind-warping sci-fi technology (Inception). Oddly, that means it’s used to exclusively subjective effect: to squeeze or stretch a sequence of events to show how different perspectives on one crisis create impressions of urgency and time. The other interesting thing is that the three-piece narrative’s only real twist—namely, the fact that the mute infantryman in the Spielbergian “The Mole” section is actually a French soldier who yoinked a British uniform off a corpse—is unrelated to the structure, and is played totally straight.

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Speaking of distended time: the languorous ending stretch might be the closest that Dunkirk has to a love-it-or-leave-it moment, as it contains both some of the most graceful sentimental moments in Nolan’s body of work (the Tom Hardy character’s Spitfire gliding over the beach in a strange gesture of self-destruction and faith) and some of the corniest. The uncertainty of his fate at the hands of his out-of-focus German captors and the almost metaphysical image of the burning Spitfire almost ends the movie on a powerful note—but not before a cut back to the returning survivors, still seated on the Expository Epilogue Express. One can’t help but feel that, after more than 90 tight minutes of almost non-stop suspense, Nolan uses the ending mostly to luxuriate in his creation—including the film’s only aerial money shots of the Dunkirk beach—and his own sentimental attachment to the subject matter.

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