Why ‘Dunkirk’ Is Based on ‘One of the Greatest Stories in Human History’

Jul 24, 2017 by

Real-life heroics so long ago have inspired this latest dramatic film by Christopher Nolan

by Zachary Leeman -Acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight Trilogy,” “Interstellar”) did everything he could to make his latest project, the war movie “Dunkirk,” look and feel as real as possible.

The filmmaker used the actual locations of World War II events whenever possible, and he reportedly avoided computer-generated special effects as much as he could as well, instead relying on real military machinery — such as battleships and aircrafts, to fill his shots.

To know why Nolan went to such painstaking efforts to bring a sense of realism to his film, one needs to be familiar with the events the screenplay is based on: the Battle of Dunkirk and Operation Dynamo.

In 1940, before the history-changing events of Pearl Harbor and America’s involvement in the war, Nazi Germany heavily occupied many neighboring nations.

The Battle of France (in which German forces took that country as well as Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) occurred in May and June of 1940. It resulted in tens of thousands of losses on the sides of both invading German forces and Allied troops (France, Belgium, and Britain at the time).

The invasion was a major victory for Nazi Germany and could have been a devastating blow to the Allied Forces — were it not for the success of the events that took place inside the town of Dunkirk, France.

During the Battle of France, the smaller but legendary Battle of Dunkirk commenced. Hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were pushed back by invading troops into the town of Dunkirk.

Rather than move in and wipe out the forces with their tanks, the Nazi forces stopped outside the city and essentially quarantined the soldiers. The reasoning behind this is still debated today among historians. Some theorize Hitler did not want to waste his resources on the battle; others think he wanted to take the men as prisoners.

After Hitler’s halt order was given to his forces, the Allied troops then took advantage of the opportunity — and set the wheels in motion for Operation Dynamo, an effort to help as many Allied soldiers escape Dunkirk as possible.

The town of Dover, England, was only 20-plus miles away for the men stranded in Dunkirk, France. Home was visible to many of them standing on the beach in the midst of a battle that seemed unwinnable.

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Every possible Navy vessel was called upon to rescue the men. Even civilian boats answered the calls for help when it was discovered many destroyers could not reach the shores. Hitler eventually rescinded his halt order — but over 300,000 men had escaped before he could fully come to his senses.

The rescue effort was not as clean as it may sound in a mere description. Many men lost their lives, and artillery constantly struck the trapped men from the German forces that were trying to ruin the rescue efforts. Thousands of Allied soldiers were taken prisoner; Germany also took a great deal of equipment.

“If it [Operation Dynamo] had gone the other way, we would all live in a very different society today,” said “Dunkirk” actor Cillian Murphy on “Late Night with Stephen Colbert” about the importance of the success of the operation to the war efforts.

And it was important. Despite the loss of France to Nazi Germany, the success of Dunkirk and the rescue of hundreds of thousands of soldiers was seen as proof of the perseverance and heart of the Allied forces. Today, some in England still refer to the Battle of Dunkirk as the “Dunkirk Miracle” — and some use the phrase the “Dunkirk Spirit” to motivate people when faced with adversity.

“You’ve got 400,000 men on this beach [in Dunkirk, France], pretty much within sight of England; the enemy closing in on all sides,” director Nolan told NPR of the story of Dunkirk and his motivation to tell it cinematically. “And they were faced with really the choice between surrender and annihilation. And the fact that this story does not end in either surrender or annihilation is why, for me, I think it’s one of the greatest stories in human history.”

Source: Why ‘Dunkirk’ Is Based on ‘One of the Greatest Stories in Human History’ | LifeZette

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