On the deck of the boat, the British soldier anxiously asks Peter how George is doing. He doesn’t know that George lies dead on the lower deck.
How did he die?
Peter is seething inside. How dare you ask, his eyes speak.
After all, he knows that this soldier, their own soldier, owes his very life to the help he received from Peter, his father, Dawson and George.
The three of them -civilians- were on the way across the Engligh channel to Dunkirk in their private boat to help in the evacuation of Allied soldiers. They were responding to a desperate call by the British authorities. All sea-faring vessels were needed to get soldiers back home. In the sea,they had spotted this lone soldier, the sole survivor of a ship-wreck and rescued him from a certain death by getting him onboard. They planned to move on. But, the rescued soldier had had enough of war. On hearing of their Dunkirk plan, he had termed it as madness and demanded they straight away head for home instead. As talk went out of hand, the soldier lost it and pushed George. George was hit hard on the head falling down. He died soon after on the lower deck, his death not seen by the soldier who was too scared to check on him down below.
As the soldier awaited his answer, Peter had to decide. Here he was -a young lad- seeing the worst of war and as senseless a death as any. He could feel righteous and break the news to the soldier in a way that says, look what you have done. And who could blame him for that? That was the truth. But, Peter knew that saying so then would break the soldier from inside. It would hollow out any hope of deliverance this soldier is desperately clinging onto. Peter says something that lets the soldier live with hope – for the timebeing. Peter’s father, Dawson silently acknowledges what his son has done. Hope amidst despair.
This beautiful scene – the best of the movie for me – conveys what Dunkirk was all about – the desperate struggle to hang onto hope amidst the despair of military defeats that the Allies were going through at that time.
In 1940, in Dunkirk, close to four lakh Allied soldiers were evacuated even as they were being pounded by their enemy under apocalyptic circumstances. In military terms, it was a retreat. In our present times, nations and leaders love to project power and domination. Dunkirk, the movie, looks at a time of desperation and subjugation in the history of a nation. And seeks to reveal what it must have meant to those at the frontier.
The darkest hour is just before dawn.
Dunkirk ushers us into this darkest hour. And it makes us stay there. It does so without giving us an enemy to rail against, the other side remains abstract. It does so without giving us gory details of the savagery, no torn limbs or smashed heads.
Worth a watch.