A movie in which you may just have to understand that the half drowned soldier you save on your boat may be so damaged from the war that he may never be the same again.
Where you may just have to understand that he may hurt someone that you love, not out of hatred, but out of terror.
It manages to tell a story about Tom Hardy’s fighter pilot character– a guy who makes a life changing decision– and to capture the feeling and the emotional import of that decision with barely a word—simply with a blown fuel gauge, a couple of chalk calculations on his fighter jet console– and a big decision at the end of the film.
It’s a journey that is not structured around big speeches and feel good American values and huge heroic choices that lead to happy endings, but rather with a series of understated little choices that play out almost in real time, and add up to one big sacrifice that plays out nearly as quietly as the ones the tiny choices that preceded it.
A horror of war in which most people simply get in line– and which even the moments of individuality and self preservation which occur within that orderly slaughter are no more likely to lead to salvation than simply following the rules. They don’t come for nice “likeable” characters and memorable dialogue.
This is a movie where characters make real decisions that aren’t Hollywood at all, real decisions under pressure drawn from research about the real events– such as the character who at one point just gets up from the beach and walks into the water as if he could somehow swim the English Channel. They don’t come for formulaic structure or wrapping up everything with a bow.
Whatever the worst thing that can happen, the most ironic thing that can happen, Christopher Nolan allows it to happen.
When you do that, what happens is that your characters– whether they are talking or not, whether we know what is happening or not, whether we understand the situation or not– when your characters want something really badly, and keep taking actions to get it, and the worst possible thing keeps happening, it forces your characters to keep on making decisions.
This is a war movie about a retreat, about a surrender, but also about the kinds of miracles that happen when people care about each other.
He’s not “Saving the Cat” or behaving in any of the courageous ways we’ve been taught our main characters are supposed to behave.