Christopher Nolan’s film “Dunkirk” has received widespread praise from critics and audience members alike and currently maintains a whopping 93% ‘fresh’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Despite this, however, it has received some negative attention by critics who have denounced the picture for not featuring more minorities or women in it’s scandalous quest for historical accuracy. The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, however, opted for a different route by praising the film as being, of all things, a ‘war film for the Trump era.’
The label is confusing for a number of reasons. Cohen begins his review by citing the historical background of Dunkirk, the stakes at hand, the major players, etc. and offers a fairly nuanced analysis. Then, however, he abruptly changes course with his conclusion of the article:
Nolan had an obligation to suggest this context — and film reviewers had an obligation to note his reluctance. But not a single reviewer I’ve read faulted Nolan for removing Dunkirk from its context, or his insistence that ignorance is a cinematic virtue and that politics — which in this case was about who shall live and who shall die — would only muddy things up. This is especially the case in the age of President Trump when it is necessary to appreciate that the ugliness he has exploited could escape its confines and metastasize. Contrary to Nolan’s insistence, the politics of Dunkirk remains not only relevant, but also urgent. Ignore it, and it will take you by the throat.
No British soldier called the men shooting at him “the enemy.” I checked with Michael Korda, author of a forthcoming book on Dunkirk (“Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory”). The British called the Germans “Jerries.” They were real, upfront killers and included units of the SS who, at Dunkirk, murdered at least 80 British prisoners. These Germans fought in the cause of a huge evil and, because they lost, I write today. “The enemy”? It was then Germany. It is now ignorance.
Cohen seemingly compares Trump to Nazi Germany here, although it’s somewhat difficult to understand where he means to go with this analogy. The opening scene of the film portrays allied soldiers walking the streets near Dunkirk as they are bombarded by German pamphlets showing them to be surrounded by the Nazi forces. Soon, shots ring out from an unseen foe as the men flee to the safety of the beaches waiting for rescue.
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Maybe Cohen sees himself and the other members of the press as being like the seemingly doomed men at Dunkirk. Desperate and on the ropes, they flee the approach of the great orange behemoth that they fear will soon swallow them and the world they know. Now they wait on the proverbial beaches for a secular, politically correct, gender-neutral savior to rescue them from their hopeless plight.