The truth matters. That is what I take away from the film Dunkirk. Truth cannot and should not be changed on a whim or because of someone’s feelings or because it is inconvenient. Nothing changes. The truth never changes. And this relates to Dunkirk in two ways.
The first is the issue raised by feminists and other activists who complain that the cast was not sufficiently diverse. This puts storytellers in a difficult position—trapped between a rock and a hard place.
If they heed the advice of these groups and decide to have a more diverse cast, women and people of all races, they could do it in one of two ways. They could retain historical accuracy by setting part of the film in some location populated by women and people of various races between May and June of 1940, forcing the filmmakers to focus, at least partially, upon events unrelated to the story they set out to tell. In the alternative, they could depict women and men of every race as serving in the British army in 1940, which would not be factual and would not be the truth.
Or they could go all out and create something like Hamilton, where the casting choices were supposed to be different from who the characters were in history. But nobody really wants to do that for Dunkirk because this story is intended to be a straightforward depiction of the historical event, not an elegant reinterpretation.
But, as it stands, the film had at least two women in it and I think I saw a man who was black in the French army, but I am not too sure. So one must wonder if the activists complaining about the lack of diversity in the cast would complain about depictions of events that occurred primarily among women or people of color.
The second issue is that there were actual things that Dunkirk got wrong. I saw this movie in the theater with my father and a friend. My friend knows about some types of World War II-era engineering, and there were things that he saw that were not accurate.
At some point in the film, a torpedo is heading for a ship and someone spots it because it is high enough in the water that he can see its wake. That is not accurate because torpedoes travel deep enough that they do not leave a wake on the surface. In addition, they cannot be launched in such shallow water and as close to land as they were in the film.
There is also a long period of time during which a spitfire is gliding around after running out of fuel. But that cannot be the case since it is metal. Once the engines on such a plane stop running, it starts a downward curve quickly.
There were also some historical inaccuracies, but I am not a historian and if you want historical accuracy, you can go get a history textbook. Films are, by and large, not meant to be exact in the way a textbook is exact. That is not to say, however, that films are not meant to be true. The truth is not malleable and does not bend to the whims of style or culture.
Media that involves storytelling allows the viewer to see the world or parts of the world or parts of a different world from the eyes of the filmmaker. It is an expression of whatever the filmmaker wants to express. In Dunkirk, the filmmaker was depicting the bravery and sacrifice of the men involved in that historical event. It is worth seeing.
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