Q5. Describe at least one important message that was revealed by a character or individual in the text. Explain why it was important that the character or individual revealed this message.
The most heroic actions are oftentimes the most understated. Director Christopher Nolan, through his film ‘Dunkirk’, aims to show the audience that understated acts of heroism often carry more gravity than those which are surrounded by a sort of fanfare. He uses the character of Farrier to demonstrate this message of heroic self sacrifice to the audience.
The evacuation of Dunkirk was one of England’s greatest successes of the Second World War. After the Battle of Dunkirk(fought on the French peninsula and also referred to as the Bataille de Dunkerque in French) fell in the Axis powers’ favour, around 400,000 British soldiers were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, surrounded by enemy forces who were slowly pushing closer. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had been in the role for barely two weeks, launched Operation Dynamo. A plea went out to the English public and around 850 civilian boats to relieve the troops stuck on the beach, with no man of a British regiment left behind. Churchill referred to the Evacuation, in his infamous speech ‘We will fight them on the beaches’, as a ‘miracle of deliverance’.
At around 47 minutes into the film, Farrier shoots down an enemy aircraft which promptly crashes into the ocean. He is flying over the water, looking at the sinking trawler, the minesweeper and other attempts made by the British troops in an attempt to get off of the beach when he looks up and notices an enemy aircraft eyeing up the ships. Christopher Nolan then cuts to a close up of Farrier’s broken fuel gauge and his chalk arithmetic which he has been using to calculate the amount of fuel he has left. Nolan is introducing the audience to the decision Farrier will have to make soon, then cuts back to the land. This builds tension in the audience as they know that there is an upcoming moment which will change the course of the film.
Nolan also uses this cut back to the land to show what Farrier must make his decision about. Nolan is showing the audience the vulnerability of the men who are trying and failing to launch small boats to get across the channel; these are the men that Farrier must choose to save or leave. This adds to the growing tension in the scene as the audience realises this and prepares themselves for it.
Following on from this, at around 54 minutes, Nolan cuts back to Farrier again. This time the audience can hear Farrier’s breathing slowly increasing as he realises his choices and panics. The non diegetic shepard tone, crafted by Hans Zimmer for the film, becomes louder and more prominent, building tension in the audience as it wonders what decision Farrier will make. Hans Zimmer uses this seemingly continuous rising tone to mimic the rising tension throughout the film which only breaks at the very end, as the men arrive back in England.
The shepard tone is most prominent on the land and sea. This scene where Farrier makes his decision is one of the few times that the audience hears the shepard tone while the ‘camera’ is focused on those in the air. This only stresses how important this decision is to the film.
As he is deliberating, Farrier even shakes his head which shows the audience how seriously he is weighing up his options. In a close up of Farrier’s eyes-as the rest of his face is obscured by his oxygen mask- the audience sees the concern and realisation dawn upon Farrier that, if he chooses to take after this aircraft, he will most likely never see Britain again. After a few seconds Farrier continues on after the aircraft. This moment of hesitation Farrier has, as he realises that he will most likely have to die in order to protect those on the land,reminds the audience that Farrier is only human. Christopher Nolan does not show Farrier as boldly chasing after the aircraft straight away, as that would cause the audience to lose interest. Instead, he uses this moment to push across the theme of self sacrifice; Farrier is a human who is laying down his life for his people and his country.
By using these camera angles and sound effects Christopher Nolan is showing the central theme of quiet, understated self sacrifice throughout the film. Farrier is not screaming, or crying in fear, or making some sort of song-and-dance about how mighty and strong he is. He is simply doing what he believes to be his duty for his country by putting his life into almost certain doom. This ties into several of the film’s prominent themes, including self sacrifice and patriotism.
Christopher Nolan uses Farrier and his decision to use his remaining petrol to defend the peninsula to show the audience that heroic actions are oftentimes the quietest and most humble. Christopher Nolan uses Farrier’s decision to show how, at the Evacuation of Dunkirk, it was the brave self-sacrifice of everyday people that turned the tide on World War Two, whether they were simple men recruited into the armed forces or parents who sailed their leisure boats across the English Channel. Farrier’s decision is certainly the most prominent action of heroism throughout the film, but most certainly not the only one.