"You won the war. Now we're fighting the peace. It's a lot more volatile."
(Enemy of the State, 1998)
My initial reaction upon seeing Dunkirk was 'I look forward to seeing the final cut'. It felt unfinished, a work in progress, what's known in the industry as 'the suicide cut' - the term given to the rough assembly of footage following completion of principal photography that's so disheartening for the filmmaker to watch after all of their dreams and hard work that it makes them want to kill themselves (I feel that way after some of my final cuts). It's at this point that the hard work to salvage the movie begins - to 'fix it in post'. Seasoned filmmakers can at least reassure themselves that this is a perfectly normal part of the process. Or, in the case of mega successful filmmakers who have amassed so much power and self-regard, not even bother to fix it because screw conventional narrative, I'm an Auteur dammit. But Dunkirk is not Nolan reaching the heights of Stanley Kubrick. It's a boy playing with his toy soldiers while Nanny prepares a picnic of jam sandwiches and lashings of ginger ale.
My second reaction was 'I suppose UKIP will love it' (as would the late Bernard Manning no doubt), thanks to its palpable nostalgia for a stiff upper lip Anglo Saxon monoculture, like a war film made by a lobotomised Richard Curtis. So it was no surprise when Nigel Farage tweeted his endorsement. For all its War Is Hell trappings, Dunkirk is a paean to a lost Edenic England, set during the last hurrah of the British Empire, prior to the decisive intervention by America that would usher in a period of US domination that is only now being usurped by pesky foreigners. Why make this film, I wondered, in an era when seven decades of relative peace is at risk of being undermined by rampant xenophobic machismo? Especially since Nolan's last film, the flawed but superior Interstellar, whilst similarly an elegy for a bygone era - the space race - was ultimately a hopeful film about anachronistic men passing the baton onto women as the future pioneers of enlightened civilisation amongst the stars.
A possible answer manifested itself almost immediately. Dunkirk ends on a young soldier reading a newspaper containing Churchill's iconic "We shall fight them on the beaches..." speech, a poignant moment that we in the audience grasp with hindsight signals a turning point in the War. Upon leaving the cinema, I opened a news app on my phone and the first headline was about a man convicted of rape. The contrast was sobering. Dunkirk is a counter-myth of masculinity, harking back to a more innocent time when men were heroes and women were grateful.