The Selfish Gene and Survival of the fittest – theories which are religiously held as sacrosanct in the Western world of enlightenment. Sigmund Freud once asserted, “Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.” Yet every man (woman) who has had the rays of enlightenment and wisdom even cast a shadow on him/her, will attest to the truth of what Viktor Frankl says on surviving the Nazi concentration camps that, ¨There, in the filth of Auschwitz, the “individual differences” between people did not blur, but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints¨.

Dunkirk is an intense and gripping movie directed by Christopher Nolan, depicting the historical Dunkirk evacuation of British and French troops during World War II. Set on a non-linear time line and with not many dialogues, Nolan depicts the frantic battle for survival through the prism of three army soldiers, a couple of RAF pilots and a civilian sailor, his son and his friend – war being fought on land, air and sea.

In 1940, as France is being overrun by the Germans, the Allies (British and French troops) have been cornered into Dunkirk, surrounded by the might of German artillery and air power. Hundreds of thousands of British troops wait at Dunkirk beach for the Royal Navy ships to arrive for the retreat home, but are pounded by the German shelling from both air and land. With hopes for survival slim and the threat of losing the core of British Army and Navy and thus losing the war very real, Churchill devises a plan to bring at least some troops home to defend the British Isles in the impending Battle for Britain. With the large Navy destroyers being mercilessly bombed by the Germans, the English scamper to requisition small civilian vessels from across UK to sail to Dunkirk and ferry the stranded soldiers.

The film begins with Tommy, Alex and Gibson, the three army soldiers united by fate and a desire to escape from the deadly beaches. Driven by fear and hopelessness on one hand, the will to survive and get back home drives them to help each other as well as look for extreme ways to find a way to sail back to England. Dawson is a civilian sailor in Weymouth, who decides to set sail to Dunkirk to evacuate the soldiers along with his son Peter and Peter’s friend George. Farrier and Collins are two RAF pilots flying their spitfires to Dunkirk to aid the retreat of the troops from Dunkirk. The movie portrays the remarkable real-life story of the escape of more than 300,000 troops from Dunkirk, and the sacrifices made by hundreds of simple men and women across the UK and beyond to aid that recovery.

On the one hand Dunkirk depicts the raw and primal human instinct to survive – faced with the reality of death and annihilation. Yet, on the other hand is the many who willingly put their lives in harm’s way, for the sake of their brethren – giving one’s life for the many. Time and again, history has proven that it is precisely those who willingly give their lives for a greater cause, that have made lasting change in the world. ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls down and decays, it bears no fruit’. Dunkirk is also a timely reminder in today’s world, where the ugly beast of ultra-nationalism is again rearing its head around the globe, even in our very own backyards, that ultimately there are no victors in a war – everyone loses.


Joseph Anthraper lives in Southampton with his wife Mahima and kids Anna-Claire, John-Paul and Samuel-Joseph, and loves reading, movies and theology. He is part of the Kairos Global Editorial Council.