The left hasnt been as upset about Christopher Nolans film as conservative writers appear to have expected but theyre fighting back anyway
Christopher Nolans film Dunkirk landed this week, and parts of the right did their best to turn it into another episode in the culture wars. They were clearly expecting that the cultural left would get much more upset about a big war movie depicting the travails of cis white men. The fact that this didnt happen led to some unintentional comedy. Meanwhile, some of them didnt get what they expected from the movie. Its Saving Private Ryan, and some conservatives found it to be too grim, and too much like actual war to count as a celebration of it.
Author: James Delingpole made his name as a climate change troll across the pond. Now he has free rein to take whatever comes into his head and smear it all over Breitbart.
Why you should read it: The right is itching for a culture war over Dunkirk. Wouldnt it be fantastic if the left got upset about a celebrated moment in the second world war the op-eds would write themselves! Sadly, no one has really come to the party. Delingpoles misfire here is launched on the basis of a single, ambiguous sentence in a straightforward, complimentary USA Today review, which notes that some might be upset by the lack of women and people of color in the cast. This casual statement of fact is amplified by Delingpole, and others, into a full-throated PC attack on the tommies on the beach. But you wonder, as you read, whether their heart is in this stuff any more.
Extract: Yes, its true that Dunkirks leading roles are indeed dominated by white European males. But one possible reason for this is that Dunkirk was an actual historical event which director Christopher Nolan has gone to considerable trouble to re-create as accurately as possible.
Publication: National Review
Author: Kyle Smith
Why you should read it: Smith cant help but admire Nolans technical achievement, but its all a little too close, for his tastes, to the catalogue of misery of real war. He wishes Nolan had injected a little more sentimentality. One wouldnt want to draw too much from a movie review, but you do begin to wonder, reading a review like this: how much of the highbrow rights habitual appreciation for martial glory is derived from its Hollywood depictions, and how much from reality?
Extract: Patriotic declarations, too, are such war-movie staples that Nolan studiously avoids the usual approach, presenting perhaps the greatest speech of the 20th century in the least grandiose way imaginable. In my book, that makes the power of the words all the more effective, but so grueling is the journey upon which Nolan has taken us that we require more relief than he gives us more payoff, as the studio suits would say, more catharsis, more (if you like) tear-jerking.
Publication: The Spectator
Author: Deborah Ross is not anyones idea of a rightwing ideologue, but in the Daily Mail and the Spectator she produces reviews for those publications rightwing audiences.
Why you should read it: The complaint here is similar to National Reviews the technical side is stunning but there is no heart behind the unremitting bleakness. Nolans own politics have been criticised in the past as rightwing, even crypto-fascist, on the basis of films like The Dark Knight Rises. Perhaps there was an expectation of something more jingoistic, rousing or frankly rightwing.
Extract: But mostly you must understand that Nolan wants us to come at events as they happened, which means this isnt about individual heroism, or any kind of character development. (No one carries a letter from a beloved in their inside pocket, for example.) It is brave, and even admirable, but if you are fond of an emotional core? Then you will sorely feel the lack of it.
Publication: Washington Examiner
Author: Tom Rogan pumps out acres of conservative commentary for the Washington Examiner. He has worked previously at a range of places, and prominently at National Review. He is not camera-shy, and shows up frequently on Fox News.
Why you should read it: Rogan, too, tries to make something out of some innocuous remarks, and historical ambiguities, in reviews from outlets like USA Today and Rolling Stone. Somehow, he takes these reviews of a film about a British defeat and makes them the basis of an affirmation of middle America and Donald Trump. I guess this is why he gets the big bucks.
Extract: Of course, it was those of Trumps America middle America that formed the forces that saved the world from the Nazis and imperial Japan. Those young men, like my grandfather from Fishers Island, New York, knew nothing of European history. But like their brothers at Dunkirk and in the skies over Britain (like my other grandfather), they saved it anyway.
Publication: The Wall Street Journal
Author: Dorothy Rabinowitz is a Wall Street Journal editorial board member, who has been noted for years as an antagonist of radical crazies and [the] fascist left. Oddly, she seems to have pegged Christopher Nolan as one of them.
Why you should read it: Rabinowitz sees Nolans decision to centre everything on the action on the beaches, and to leave the larger political situation in the background, as not only a dumbing-down, but perhaps as something even more sinister. By leaving Churchill out, she thinks, Nolan moves the whole thing away from great men to collectivism.
Extract: When an event in history has become, in the mind of a writer, universal, its a tipoff the warning bell that were about to lose most of the important facts of that history, and that the storytelling will be a special kind – a sort that obscures all specifics that run counter to the noble vision of the universalist.
No wonder those German Stukas and Heinkels bombarding the British can barely be identified as such. Then there is Mr Nolans avoidance of Churchill lest audiences get bogged down in politics a strange term for Churchills concerns during those dark days of May 1940. One so much less attractive, in its hint of the ignoble and the corrupt, than communal and universal words throbbing with goodness. Nothing old-fashioned about them either, especially universal – a model of socio-babble for all occasions.