|Besides the blind man at the end of the film, I think George is my favorite character of the film, because of his humility and his willingness to put others first. In my first post on Dunkirk and the "ineffable," I noted how George is supposed to toss the rope he holds back into the boat and stay on the dock, but instead, he gets on the boat to go into war with Mr. Dawson and his friend Peter; why? The rope symbolizes an umbilical cord, and just as a baby within the womb of its mother is fed and nourished to life by the umbilical cord, so the Moonstone will be an umbilical cord for George; but he dies, you might argue; and I would respond, a greater and better George is born. When the Shivering Soldier knocks George down the stairs, and George hits his head, what does he do? He curls up in a fetal position, like a baby in the womb, the womb of the ship, and yes, he dies, but he was born a hero. But he didn't do anything! you may still argue, and that would be a good argument, except that he does do something: he saves the Shivering Soldier. Mr Dawson tells George that the Shivering Soldier has shell shock and he may never get over it, but the Shivering Soldier does get over it by expressing his concern over George, in other words, having George's condition to focus on and care about brings Shivering Soldier out of his shivering and coldness (like the coldness of heart he expressed to Tommy and Alex as they were swimming to the boat Shivering Soldier was in charge of, but he wouldn't let Tommy and Alex in the boat, telling them instead to tread water and another boat would be around for them). George, then, no only saves the Shivering Soldier from the shell shock by making him realize that reality is still happening around him, but cures him of his emotional coldness, so George is not only a hero for going into war when he could have stayed at the safety of the dock, George is also a hero for saving a man's life from ruin.|
When George falls, it's like he has taken the Shivering Soldier's "fall" from grace (coldness of heart and shell shock) upon himself, as Christ took the sins of our fall from grace upon Himself. We know that George hits his head and then he can't see; just like the blindness of the blind man at the end of the film, George "can't see" how his sacrifice will prove heroic, because that a boy so young would die to suddenly and seemingly for no reason, doesn't make sense (George hitting his head, because the head is where we "make sense" of things). George mentions to Peter that he would have liked to become a reporter for the town newspaper, but George does better than that: he becomes a story himself.
The idea of George having a "moment" when he makes a difference, just like Peter, Dawson, Collins, Farrier and all the other captains of the little boats who come to save their boys, was something we also saw in Transformers 5: The Last Knight, when Sir Burton (Anthony Hopkins) attacks an enemy and buys Cade a few extra moments; as he lays dying, he says, "I had my moment," and even though no one else in the world knows what he did, and how it helped saved the world, he knew; George, in Dunkirk, on the other hand, doesn't realize how his sacrifice saved the Shivering Soldier, and usually, that's how our own sacrifices in our life will be: we won't know until we stand before God, and either He will be able to show us all the good things we did, even though no one but He saw, or He will be forced to show us all the things we thought no one would see and we could get away with, but He was watching, and that's how we chose to spend our time here instead of doing good.
|In terms of the theme of "seeing" and "not seeing," this scene is important: they know they are surrounded by the enemy, even though they can't see them, the enemy knows they are there and helpless; they do, however, see another enemy in action, and that enemy is despair, physically manifested by the soldier who walks onto the beach, dropping his gear, and dives into the water to drown himself, because he has all ready drowned himself in despair (which is the opposite of blind faith, it's blind pessimism and foreboding; we discuss the suicide more at the bottom of the post); why does the man commit suicide? Because he has no faith in his English brethren to care about him and save him from the beach. Even though this man dies, we can see something else being born (as the rope George holds as he jumps onto the Moonstone to join the Dawsons going to war, so the foam on the beach surrounding the young men can be seen as a birth symbol, because it was from sea foam that Aphrodite was born, and the young men, watching even as this other soldier would rather end his life than wait just a little longer, have to make a choice: will they have faith in Churchill and their officers to get them out? You see, the reason each and every choice we make is so heavily emphasized in Nolan films is because with each and every choice, we change who we are: we are never static, we are always changing. The young men pictured here are choosing not to give up hope, not to give into despair, just as they are not giving into the Germans to surrender, and so they are being born anew as the soldiers who wouldn't die, the soldiers who wouldn't give in, the soldiers who believed and fought with their hope and faith; this moment changes them, as does every moment in their lives, and every moment in your life and mine. Every single decision we make prepares us to make the next decision, and to make it with as much heroic virtue as possible, even if that is just as simple as returning someone's hate with kindness, no one might see it, but it will have an immediate impact in the person we become because of the decisions we choose to make.|
Let's talk about "Gibson." At the start of the film, we see Tommy escape the opening gunfire, and make his was to the beach; he goes behind a dune to "relieve nature" and doesn't because he sees a man burying another man; Tommy stops and helps bury the guy, and at the time, I thought the dead soldier had all ready been dead and "Gibson" needed new shoes, or a new uniform. We see Gibson then help Tommy carry the stretcher with the wounded man to the Red Cross ship, and manage to get on, then when they are kicked off, he shows him where to hide, and so many times, Gibson saves Tommy, almost like a silent guardian angel, but then, Alex accuses Gibson of being a Frenchman who murdered that English soldier,... so what happened? Tommy stands up for Gibson, that there were plenty of dead English soldiers on the beach, but we see those English soldiers, they are laying in the open, covered, because they are going to be carried back to England for burial at home, none of them are being buried on the beach where their bodies will exposed by the tides,... this detail suggests that the Frenchman did, indeed, kill the Englishman and take on his identity of "Gibson," not as a spy, but just trying to get to safety like everyone else. However, the scene has a far more sinister, and real historical equivalent: what has come to be known as the half-hearted Saar Offensive which happened prior to Dunkirk, when the French were supposed to have attacked the Germans at an extremely vulnerable point so they would have been permanently weakened and not have secured their offensive foothold so strongly, but the French failed to launch any attack, and retreated. The body of the dead English soldier Tommy helps "Gibson" bury has his bare foot sticking up in the air; we know that feet symbolize will, and nudity or nakedness symbolizes "exposure," so Alex, later in the boat, exposes "Gibson" for having killed the soldier, because with the failure of the Saar Offensive, so many English soldiers died who didn't have to if the French had actually followed through with the Offensive, rather than just retreating, and so the will of the French is "exposed" by Alex (the dead English soldier's bare feet). The failure of the Saar Offensive is what lead to the start of the ""Phoney War" when neither the Allied powers nor Germany and her allies, were able to launch offensives even though war had been declared, just as "Gibson" isn't really Gibson, but is a "phoney" English soldier. We know that a character never dies unless they are "all ready dead" in some manner, and "Gibson" would not have died if Nolan didn't want to communicate to us, the viewers, that Gibson/what he represents is a form of death; but Gibson saves Tommy so many times! you might argue, and you are absolutely correct: how many brave French men and women risked and gave their lives, family, property and everything to defeat the Germans? No one but God will ever know, because they fought so long and hard, even while being occupied, just as Gibson makes so many rescues for Tommy; Nolan points out, however, that had the French acted at the perfect opportune time with the Saar Offensive, how many French and English lives would have been saved, property and damage?
THAT has shaped our world, even to today.
Surrendering is not acceptable.
|Visually, this scene illustrates an existential thesis Nolan has about humanity, which I have all ready discussed in the Ineffability post. On another level, the suicide we watch in this scene is exactly what the Germans wanted the British army to do: self-destruct. When we self-destruct, we loose our identity. We don't know who this man is, what was the final, crushing blow of despair that caused him to cross the threshold of despair and become one with the faceless sea rather than be home again. Everything fights against us in our lives, like the propaganda sheet (bottom image) illustrating how surrounded the British forces are; the enemy says, at the bottom of the sheet, "SURRENDER = SURVIVE!" but we see the man in the images above surrendering to despair, and that surrendering is death, in more ways than one. He is faceless, he is nameless, and we know nothing of him but that he surrendered.|
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