Having a Moment: Dunkirk is no longer a footnote in war history

Be honest: Before last week, what did you know about Dunkirk?

Beyond the fact that it’s the title of a new wartime epic by “that director who made those really good Batman movies,” you probably didn’t know too much about the historical event.

That’s because the 350,000-person evacuation of a sleepy French village during World War II (also known as Operation Dynamo) has largely taken a backseat in America to the more storied events of the era: D-Day, Pearl Harbor, the atom bomb.

But now, thanks to Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed new film “Dunkirk,” you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know the name. And judging from the initial box-office haul, “Dunkirk” is now known the world over. One week into its theatrical run, “Dunkirk” has already banked a lofty $50.5 million in the U.S. alone.

And Nolan is not the only person who wants to talk about the bomb-raked shores of Dunkirk in May and June 1940. In April, Danish director Lone Scherfig’s dramedy “Their Finest” was released in the U.S. The film chronicles a British filmmaking team’s endeavor to put together a “morale-boosting” film about Britain’s role in the evacuation.

Nonfiction is having a field day, too. Timed almost perfectly with the release of Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” publishers are rolling out books left and right that further elucidate Dunkirk’s legacy. Historian Joshua Levine’s “Dunkirk: The History Behind the Major Motion Picture” is already a New York Times bestseller.

Dunkirk’s unexpected emergence in pop culture is something of a double victory: a coup for Nolan’s film, but also for Dunkirk and the history buried within it.

emilymae.czachor@latimes.com

@emczachor

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