An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


Have you discovered, as I have, that most young people have never heard of Dunkirk? Writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan has recreated it in an inspired movie that runs just one hour, forty-six minutes, exactly the right length for a required high school history class. Nolan’s film is a tribute to the men who died and to those who rallied to rescue the allied forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. It couldn’t be a better lesson that war can no longer be a solution for settling disagreements.

Christopher Nolan filmed Dunkirk in three alternating sections on the beach, on the water, and in the air, all of it set against a relentless score of pure tension by Hans Zimmer. They have turned the volume high on the explosions, plane crashes, and bombs blowing ships and men to bits. Far louder than a normal soundtrack, it stuns the audience with the sounds of war. This is not the background noise of an ordinary war movie. It is the relentless noise of brutal death, and Nolan leaves us caught in tension through the whole battle. That’s the way it was.

This is history brought to gruesome life at a time when the outcome of the war was thoroughly in doubt after the fall of France. Western Europe was broken. The allied forces went into full retreat ending in unimaginable death and injury as they came to the beach and the water where there was no safety. The few naval ships became targets for Nazi planes that were being shot down by British Spitfires. Soldiers on foot were trapped and dying in the open, no place to hide.

The reason it is hard to salute specific actors is that there is very little dialogue here. Every young man is enveloped in noise and fear and all of them are surrounded by dying, broken soldiers. Suddenly the theater, rocked by an hour of noise, sees the screen fill with the small boats that came from everywhere to save 330,000 men. The audible gratitude throughout the audience is a tribute to the reality of the battle created by Christopher Nolan.

A special salute is due Mark Rylance who, as a rescuer with a small boat, creates a character driven to stay in the danger by a deep set of personal values, a stand in, as it were, for all the civilians who rallied in their small boats. There are no false notes among others in the cast, just silent men knowing many of them will die. The beach behind them will soon be full of Nazi soldiers. The water ahead, the sky above, all full of German soldiers, sailors, and pilots determined to slaughter them as they wade into the open sea.

War movies have never conveyed the reality of the sound of war and death. That is what Christopher Nolan has done to audiences with this movie. No one who sees it will forget the terrible sounds of inevitability.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title Dunkirk
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:46
Rating : PG-13
Date : July 23, 2017


Land of Mine

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Land of Mine

In all my years of slipping off to movies, I have never experienced anything like Land of Mine, a Danish story set in 1945 when the Danes forced German prisoners to search for and dismantle mines buried on the beautiful beaches of their country.

In the first scene, the Danish sergeant in charge displays his brutality with a force that silenced the theater for the full length of the film. After that there was not a sound in the theater. The natural expectation had been that it would be the good guy Danes vs. the bad guy Germans. That’s far too easy for this extraordinary study of what happens when men acquire the power of life or death over others, especially when the power shifts from one side to the other.

By assigning just twenty German boys to clear all the buried mines on just one beach, the movie becomes a graphic lesson of brutality unleashed on a personal level, a lesson in what war does to individuals. It is crafted so beautifully that it’s a safe bet that few stray thoughts came to anyone in that theater. Is anyone unaffected? No one moved when the lights came up and when they did, they lingered in the hallway, clustered in shock.

The monstrous Sergeant Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) has complete control over twenty young German soldiers, the skinny adolescent boys who were pulled in as the German ranks shrank as the war wore on. Under the sergeant’s brutal treatment, they crawl the beaches on their bellies as they stab the sand with probes. When the probe hits metal, they scrape the sand with their hands and unplug the fuse – unless it blows up. As if to confirm our broken assumption of the goodness of the Danes, we learn that the sergeant’s superiors are equally brutal. When we see flashes of decency in the sergeant, we realize again what war has done to him.

With rare skill, the film deals with what happens to those we think of as the good guys – here the Danish military who feel free to exact vengeance on the Germans who caused WWII, complicated by the fact that the enemy soldiers in this case are German schoolboys.

Those beautiful beaches became a field of death for Danes during war and for Germans post war. Both the Danish military and the German boys are acted with conviction so strong that it is no accident that we find ourselves astonished that our sympathies can shift at all.

When a movie is this overwhelming, the critical questions it raises become absorbing and the primary one is why, after centuries of wars that have killed millions, do men still sit around tables discussing war as a solution to disputes? This mighty film screams “Is there no other way?” Credit writer/director Martin Zandvliet with forcing us to think about that question. And credit the Danes for addressing both sides of it.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Land of Mine
Word Count : 493
Running time : 1:40
Rating : R
Date : 17 March 2017