Sunday, July 23, 2017

On Dunkirk

Spoilers aplenty:

I didn't like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012). Tom Hardy's Bane is terrifying, a high-school kid's image of what the psychotic jock will eventually become, white America's idea of a white terrorist. Heath Ledger's Joker is fun, a clown from a Stephen King novel, but in the end he's a cypher. Hans Zimmer's scores were oppressive. The acts of violence were brutal, swift, poorly timed, and meaningless. Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow should have been scary. Christian Bale's Batman sounded like a world-weary queen. I couldn't quite get the political points the script was describing, other than that fascism is sometimes necessary. I'll go a little Godwin here. I recently learned that the Nazis claimed that they had to be more "tough" than the average German in order to commit the violence necessary for the society as a whole to survive. Ever since, I've had a hard time watching pro-torture scenes in superhero movies without thinking "Send this sadistic, costumed freak to Nuremberg." Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) and Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992) were humane and weird. Maybe Nolan's attempt to create a more naturalistic Batman, a Gotham City which is almost realizable -- except for the touches of the supernatural -- was a mistake.

I thought Nolan's Inception (2010) was neat for the first hour, and I dug the zero-gravity scene in the hallway. Tom Hardy was hilarious. He should have been the star. But at some point I just kept thinking that my dreams were much more interesting. 

Have you ever cried at a Nolan movie? Did you give a good goddamn about the death of the hero's love interest in The Dark Knight (2008), the suicide of the hero's lover in Inception, or the sad reunion of father and daughter in Interstellar (2015)? I felt nothing. At best his movies are cool, in the way Ralph Lauren ads are cool, which is another way of saying pretty but not powerful enough to enter your fantasy life. Shallow as fuck.

So what did I think of Dunkirk (2017)? I thought Nolan had gorgeous establishing shots. The best part of the movie was the opening scene, the rain of leaflets on a quiet street, the weary pretty boys in soldier uniforms. You know it must be a narrow street in real life, but the lens made it enormous because war makes small places enormous. I dug the first image of the beech, the crowd of soldiers on the docks. And as usual I did not dig the editing, or the oppressive score which had one message and one message only, "This is intense! This is intense! Oh, my god, have I mentioned to you that this is intense!" Every bullet in Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998) is a threat to your mortal existence. When I saw the boys trapped in a hull, dodging the bullets that pierce the side of the ship, it looked like a dangerous game that I knew most of the players would win. I knew that pilot would eventually escape that plane, that he wasn't going to drown. I also knew that that brave, not-too-pretty teenage boy was marked for death the minute he was told he was off to war. 

Saving Private Ryan depicts men as animals. In Dunkirk, every man is an athlete. In Dunkirk, you are observing men in the military caring for one another, while slightly removed from the horrors. You think, why can't I be part of a community where people take care of one another? Shallow as fuck.

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