During their journey to Dunkrik they pick up a shell-shocked survivor (Cillian Murphy) who suffers from a PTSD (Post Trauma Stress Disorder).
Christopher Nolan's extraordinary war drama is a visceral, nerve-shredding pulse-pounder that needs to be experienced on the biggest screen you can find.
I like the idea that a filmmaker with a long resume of crowd-pleasing movies had to go back to check his own instincts and see if something was as good as he initially thought. It's no mere history lesson.
It's simple math. The average American, out of the 235 million Americans who go to movies, saw about five movies a year in 2015.
It's certainly a valid point considering Netflix's ever-growing dominance in people's homes, and with their film output increasing with the likes of Okja and To The Bone - it's perhaps a worthwhile claim to say they should help preserve the theatre experience. Nolan agreed that "what really makes the story so compelling and engaging is seeing the combination of the civilian community coming to the aid of the military operation. I think the youngest was 18 and you start thinking, 'What was I doing at 18?'" Fionn Whitehead plays Tommy who is the main character we follow on the land.
"We needed young strangers to play those characters", Nolan explains. "We wanted people to see guys with no expectations about whether they will survive or not". Most of the soldiers trapped on the beach are identifiable mainly by their faces, particularly the mysterious Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and the tightly wound Alex (Harry Styles, formerly of the boy band One Direction, in his first acting role). Perhaps that's the point: war takes lives indiscriminately, and soldiers are often faceless young men, trotted out in huge numbers, nearly anonymously, to fight for their country. We're planted on a deserted village street with a group of British soldiers tip-toeing amongst a snowfall of Nazi propaganda fliers. Styles did just that.
The best way to describe Dunkirk is that it is what you'd get if you put The Thin Red Line, Fury Road and Titanic together in a blender, with a sprinkle of Nolan's trademark non linear narrative.
"That's generally how it's been since I've known him". "But it's part of my job to look for that potential". And yet even these shortcomings feel right-Dunkirk reminds us of the experiential power of film. So what happens when you get both dished up and served to you on a big screen?
The air portion focuses on Spitfire pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collin (Jack Lowden) as they try to protect rescue vessels from the enemy's aerial attacks, though at the time the Royal Air Force were largely ordered to stay away from Dunkirk. "My hope is that at the end of the film, the audience will take a break and think, 'OK, that was an experience".