I made the mistake of subjecting my wife’s poor ears to the IMAX version of the movie, Dunkirk last week. The background music, more than the German bombing, left us both rattled. I think I’ll enjoy this movie of the British escape in 1940 more on DVD with reduced volume and the subtitles.
Movie watchers my age grew up accustomed to historical features assuring us of the story’s wider historical background and significance for future generations. Times have changed.
In fact, Dunkirk’s strength is the way it thrusts the viewer into the immediate time of three separate stories: a week-long attempt of a British soldier to escape France, a day-long effort of a fishing boat owner to rescue drowning troops, and a one-hour flight of an RAF pilot trying to cover the withdrawal. All of these characters choose to sacrifice themselves without any assurance that their efforts will do any good.
Like Gary Cooper in High Noon, characters in Dunkirk have legitimate excuses to do nothing; nevertheless, they make dangerously sacrificial decisions in real time. Fishermen are not obligated to go with their civilian crafts into a war zone. Pilots are even ordered to turn back before their gas reserves expire. Nevertheless, pilots choose to die or be captured rather than leave hundreds unprotected. A blind man, who would be exempted from service by all, nevertheless insists on being at the docks to greet returning soldiers with a blanket.
Such courage is not lost on us here in Speedway. Saturday I watched a man fall unconscious as his van narrowly missed one pedestrian, crashing at high speed through a concrete block garage. Within a minute there were a dozen people trying to care for him and give comfort to his passenger granddaughter.
People congregate at accidents because they sense a spiritual need to help in a way that transcends themselves. There is a profound urge to matter to others. Often the tragedy at such scenes is that folks, who want to help, seem insensible to the spiritual and emotional emergencies going on all the time. It doesn’t require a war, flood or accident to seize moments in which to give ourselves to our neighbor.