The Movie “Dunkirk” Denounced For Its “Maleness”

Dunkirk_Film_posterYesterday, I finally had a chance to see the movie “Dunkirk.” My son Jack had already seen the film but liked it enough to go back with me.  As a military history buff, you can imagine my reaction: I loved it.  It captured the dire acts of survival on that beach and in those ships while under constant air and ground attack.  Yet, despite overwhelming critical acclaim, some have objected that the film was too white and too male.  Mehera Bonner of Marie Claire magazine objected that “Dunkirk felt like an excuse for men to celebrate maleness — which apparently they don’t get to do enough.” 

 In her review, Bonner objected that “Dunkirk” “screams ‘men-only”:

But my main issue with Dunkirk is that it’s so clearly designed for men to man-out over. And look, it’s not like I need every movie to have “strong female leads.” Wonder Woman can probably tide me over for at least a year, and I understand that this war was dominated by brave male soldiers. I get that. But the packaging of the film, the general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it just screams “men-only”—and specifically seems to cater to a certain type of very pretentious man who would love nothing more than to explain to me why I’m wrong about not liking it.

It probably should not come as much a surprise that Bonner did not like the film given her personal description at the magazine: “Brooklyn-dwelling Entertainment editor with a love for Twin Peaks, 90s teen romances, and movies about summer.”

600px-Dunkirksoldier1The funny thing is that (speaking as someone who constantly watched military and cowboy films to the irritation of my family) Dunkirk was the least likely to be denounced as “an excuse for men to celebrate maleness.”  The film showed men terrified and crying in the heat of the battle.  This was not macho John Wayne film (which I admit loving), but a film showing men displaying the full range of emotional responses from unrestrained panic to unbrittled courage to impenetrable shock.  Even Winston Churchill’s response to the evacuation dismissed efforts to over sensationalize the moment: “we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

It would have been difficult to insert many female roles in the film, though Christopher Nolan succeeded on the margins.  There were obviously not many women on that beach.  In the end, 338,226 soldiers were rescued by over 800 boats.

DUNKIRK1940I understand that this perspective will be dismissed by Bonner as another “random man will come up to you after and explain why you’re wrong for disliking it.”  What is most striking is not just the hostility toward the film but the hostility toward men reflected in the review.  There may be readers at Marie Claire who like this type of bashing of men but it is a cheap and rather sophomoric angle.  The problem with defining your writing by your gender is that you can easily fall into patterns of formulaic identity critiques.  A film about incredible courage and struggle can take on a more sexist meaning when viewed through the lens of gender.  The irony is that Dunkirk was not about combat but a type of nonviolent courage as average people took their small boats into a combat zone to rescue strangers.  Unfortunately, to see that you have to look beyond the gender of the actors.

151 thoughts on “The Movie “Dunkirk” Denounced For Its “Maleness”

  1. I’ve not read the above comments, so I apologise if there’s any redundant information in mine.
    I really enjoyed the film, although the genre is usually not that appealing to me. I, as a woman, didn’t have the feeling it was male-centred or celebrating maleness at all and as Jonathan Turley suggests, looking beyond gender can be the right option. I especially enjoyed the film because it depicted the men authentically and not as dull war heroes and because it played with time elaborately.
    I wouldn’t want to formulate any gendered critique on the film. I guess, the issue of talking about gender is important, though it should not be forced on every subject, especially not there where no discrimination whatsoever is going on.

  2. I like this movie. But… Did you notice that at the beginning of the movie it’s written “enemy”, “British”? The word Germans was never mentioned. Young people would think that it were Russians who attacked France. Especially taking into account current anti-Russian hysteria.

  3. I don’t think I’ve seen them. I obviously know of The Notebook, but just assumed that I’ve seen it a long time ago and wouldn’t rewatch.

    I actually heard opinions of Dunkirk being bad for not being more like Saving Private Ryan, with backstories which make you feel more for the soldiers. I personally did not need backstories to be moved by it and don’t think that we should just expect every movie to fit certain cliches. Nolan tried a new structure and I think it worked perfectly.

  4. I loved Dunkirk and I didn’t like Wonder Woman. Why can’t we just appreciate a good movie for what it is and stop expecting them to address every current issue? Yes, women characters can be as awesome as the male ones, but I don’t expect that from every movie I see and especially not from one depicting WWII.

  5. As the war progressed and became more technical the WRENs filled many important roles in the air and sea battles. Importance is not to be equated with being shot at.

    • David Benson – over 100 WRENS were certified flight instructors and taught those young fighter and bomber pilots how to fly. They were the ones that certified them. Many were lost ferrying aircraft to different parts of the USA.

  6. “What is most striking is not just the hostility toward the film but the hostility toward men reflected in the review.” Yes. That is exactly what we’ve all be complaining about for years. Welcome to the family.

    There is a trend among Liberals to be anti-male, and most especially anti-white-male. It’s bigoted and neurotic to filter everything they read, watch, and listen to through race and gender.

    I just care about the story. I come from a military family. I find these types of realistic war movies to be moving, frightening, tragic, visceral. War is scary. So while those of us with any sense are getting hit in the gut with what it meant to serve our country during WWII, the neurotic victim profiteers are blathering on about race and white-male-bashing. This is exactly why many of us feel the race card and gender card have been weaponized for political reasons. I suffer from crisis fatigue. I cannot keep up with what’s making Liberals upset every day. At some point, I stopped caring, because I don’t want to enable the neurosis.

  7. “But my main issue with Dunkirk is that it’s so clearly designed for men to man-out over. … the packaging of the film, the general vibe, and the tenor of the people applauding it just screams “men-only”—and specifically seems to cater to a certain type of very pretentious man who would love nothing more than to explain to me why I’m wrong about not liking it.”

    I have not followed all 99 comments (so far) so my apologies if anyone else raised this issue.

    But I wonder how, exactly, does Ms Bonner think the director and actors should have portrayed the attitudes and emotions of 300,000+ men, facing imminent defeat and the abuse of POW camps, in some of the darkest hours of the war?

    Does she believe the portrayal in the film misstates the point of view of those who actually served?

    And if she believes the packaging of the film and general vibe of those applauding the film screams ‘men-only’ then how does she suggest the film should be advertised, and discussed so that women know they too are invited to understand this historic battle and appreciate those who served? .

    It is perfectly fine for Ms Bonner to express her personal dislike for the film. But as a critic I think she owes us more to illuminate the supposed shortcomings of the film and its promotion.

    • Clearly the movie about Dunkirk should have been packaged as a teen romance with a strong female lead to appeal to her. Plus they should have taken out all the guns, as they are triggers, and any show of fighting, because that’s clearly celebrating maleness, and of course any agony and terror experienced by the soldiers, because that’s clearly too pro military, which is paternalistic.

      So, “Dunkirk” should have been a metaphor for a transgender teen romance…set in summer.

      • Well … that would make it easier to communicate the movie was for women too. And it would certainly tend to reduce any criticism the film is for men to ‘man-out over’.

        I just wonder if the love scenes would accurately illuminate the emotions of the men of the beach as they are strafed by BF109s?

        BTW, as pretentious as I may be I really am not trying to explain why you are wrong about suggesting a new and very different approach to telling the Dunkirk story. I can see it now ‘Dunkirk the Rashoman Edition’.

        • bfm – Nolan is a very different type of storyteller as we know from “Memento”. I can see a Rashamon telling of the story. However, you would have to add the French and the Germans.

        • “I just wonder if the love scenes would accurately illuminate the emotions of the men of the beach as they are strafed by BF109s?” Oh, I don’t know. Couldn’t we find some Hollywood actress who thinks her job is as difficult as going to war, without a hint of irony?

          🙂

  8. For heaven’s sake, it was a movie about a battle in WWII and in those days there were no women fighting in wars. What would Mehera Bonner, et al, suggest? That we rewrite history to include women where none were present? Should we put women in a movie about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the signing of the Constitution and the First Continental Congress when no women were involved? That doesn’t make things fairer for women, it pretends they fought in wars and were part of a governmemt that kept them out and implies they were never discriminated against. Such pretense fails women more than does showing history accurately. I’m a feminist but that kind of idiocy leaves me cold. It does nothing to advance feminism or sex equality, it just makes women look like fools.

  9. Paul:

    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority …”

    ~Lord Acton

    I believe that quote but I like Winston Churchill — warts and all. And fundamentally isn’t that what forms most of our attitudes on a visceral level.

  10. This reminds me of the idiots who felt that the movie “Pearl Harbor” made the Japanese look bad. Man that really got under my mothers skin.

    I wonder what this chick thought of “Mrs. Doubtfire”?

  11. Waited to see the movie because it was hyped to be a really good idea of what happened at Dunkirk. Personally I thought it stunk and was pretty hollow, wait for it on TV.

  12. Trouble started at the beginning of time in the garden of Eden. The woman, Eve listened to Satan who appeared as a snake & then ate the forbidden fruit of good & evil. Then Eve gave Adam some fruit to eat.

  13. Male enjoyment of military history is their testosterone talking. There is nothing useful about the details of men attacking each other. If one is interested in courage, compassion, generosity, and humanitarian efforts, look to Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Peace Corps, there are thousands of humanitarian efforts going on all the time. To focus on war is to glorify all that is wrong with humanity.

      • I would go a step further and say that tribalistic war is a default behavior buried deep in our DNA (somewhat gender-specifically), a legacy of our primate past. However, peacemaking and collaborative problem-solving are learned skills that can obviate the use of violence and war, but only to the extent all the parties become learned in conflict resolution. The hope for mankind is the rapid spread of higher-order learned skills for negotiation and constructive conflict. However, this is not a 1-time learning exercise. Because peacemaking competes for mindshare with inborn tendencies toward violence and domination, every individual in every generation must be socialized as a collaborative problem-solver. As soon as the inculcation of youth flags even a bit, mankind’s darker side will reemerge as the default response to conflict. And, this rigorous training must continue until science figures out how to cull the unproductive primate instincts from the genome, and politicians can agree how to implement it universally. That could take another 100 years.

    • You’re just being silly DL. I think one reason the liberal wars meet no resistance these days is that war is a common relaxing pastime for people who play video games. “Huh, what’s the big deal with a few thousand lives lost, the pain and suffering of children, and all the others just trying to make it through the day if we can get what we want.” Life is cheap to liberals. Obama sure was proud of his drones, so much so that he had the poor taste to threaten a potential date of his daughter publicly with a drone attack. It speaks volumes.

      I would argue that people need to experience the pain and suffering of war, but I don’t think the latest generations can literally make the connection of placing themselves or loved ones in that scenario. Hence, the arguments we have seen about “missing female actors” or “not ethnically diverse enough” are made in spite of the sheer spectacle of the horror of that actual moment in time. These critics literally cannot feel the event as portrayed in the film.

      • Well said, slohrss! Yours, Paul’s, and allan’s comments below get to the meat of it–war is a constant throughout time, and movies like this allow those who have served a type of catharsis and those who have not served a window into the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families. This film should be a starting point for those who did not experience the horrors of WWII to educate themselves, so we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, and so we can hopefully strive to be more compassionate towards those who went through a similar hell.

      • You’re overthinking this,and in a supercilious way.

        The loss of life from drone strikes, the Iraq War, and the Afghan War are a modest fraction of the loss of life during VietNam and Korea. We do not conscript people and the share of domestic product devoted to military expenditure is 4%, not the 9% that was the norm during VietNam or the 14% that was the norm during Korea.

        • I don’t see where this is any kind of rational argument. I personally don’t see the morality of killing people anywhere, despite the fractions, as a defensible action when we were not directly attacked.

          • I wish it were that simple. We’re living in a global chess game, and survival of our American way-of-life is not assured. The nature of the threats are subtle at their earliest appearance, when it is easiest to counter them.
            A “live and let live” attitude ignores threats until they have grown in size and complexity — look what happened to the Native Americans! Look what happened to Europeans in the late 1930s. Looking around the world, I see many cultures with an aggressive, expansionist, uber-confident mentality that would gladly take advantage of your pacifism.

            And the environmental challenge we face is daunting enough in its demands for changes in lifestyle…it also obliges prevailing economically and politically over all those cultures that would rather not take responsibility for the environment.

            This is no time to shrink from confronting global challenges.

            • You listen to the MSM. Never in the history of the world has their been such a dominant power as the United States. We have what, 1,000 or more military bases around the world? Your poor simplification of historical events is no basis for argument. We are rotting from the inside out, buried in inescapable debt, kept under control by a binary system of opportunists who maintain their divide and conquer strategy on the population. This is the threat to our survival. The next threat to our way of life will be when the new rival block in China, Germany, probably France, and Russia stop using the dollar as reserve currency. Russia is already throwing it out.

              For the poll type, interesting article at the Hedge today, Gallup poll from 65 countries say the US is the biggest threat to world peace. If you don’t believe the polls, ask the Libyans.

              http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-08-07/us-greatest-threat-peace-world-today-new-poll-finds

              • We have what, 1,000 or more military bases around the world?

                Over the course of the post-war period, the share of our armed forces stationed in the United States has varied between 70% and 87%.

                Some years ago, Andrew Bacevich went on a whinge about why we have a ‘Southern Command’. At the time he was complaining, there were 2,000 billets in the Southern Command, and nearly half were posted at Guantanamo, an American possession since 1902. The number of billets in the Southern Command had declined by 90% over the previous 60 years and the primary activity of the Command at the time of Bacevich whinge was drug interdiction. Aside from Guantanamo, there was no country in Latin America where more than 200 American soldiers were present. Most places had a defense attache’s office with about 6 men in univorm.

                Again, at the time of Bacevich complaint, north of 85% of American troops posted outside the United States were found in seven countries: Germany, Japan, Britain, Italy, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and there were fewer than 10,000 American troops in three of the seven. The babble about “1,000 military bases” is misleading talking point razzle-dazzle. They’re taking about airstrips with 5 people stationed at them.

              • Zerohedge is a crank site. Libya’s problems derive from Libya’s own social relations, not from anything we did do or did not do.

              • . We are rotting from the inside out, buried in inescapable debt,

                It’s not ‘inescapable’. It does require a restructuring of taxes and federal spending to manage. Our problem is not the debt per se, but Congress.

                • Been waiting since 1980 for that to happen. When Jimmy Carter wanted a $126 billion dollar budget to make the US bilingual, I thought that would have turned it around. Reagan ended up not doing any favors to the budget.

              • “Never in the history of the world has their been such a dominant power as the United States.”

                I disagree. Rome conquered vast amounts of the globe. Greece were super powers in their day. Macedonia. Heck, the Mayans ruled a continent.

                And as for the US being the greatest threat to world peace? OK, then perhaps we should stop funding the UN. Most member countries don’t chip in for it anyway and depend on us being the world’s policemen. Fine. They can take care of it then.

                But I do agree with your statement about the binary system of opportunists.

              • Here is a link to the actual study:

                http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/07/31101043/Pew-Research-Center_2017.07.13_Global-Threats_Full-Report.pdf

                62% of respondents actually believed that ISIS was the biggest threat, with climate change a close 2nd. (Climate change is almost the same threat as ISIS, who burns people alive. And a bigger threat than, for instance, finding clean drinking water.)

                35% thought US influence was one of the top threats, 31% Russia, and 31% China. That’s a spread of exactly 4% between the 3 major players. OBVIOUSLY any country with less power and influence than Russia, China, and the US would resent all 3.

          • Well, pacifists are stuck with striking poses while others do the work in this world, which is why pacifists are not to be taken seriously.

            You offered a load of nonsense that people accept ‘liberal wars’ because of videogames. There is less resistance to our current stance because it is simply less costly and troublesome than was the case in 1968 or 1952. It’s a pretty simple explanation, but it seems to have escaped you.

          • “I personally don’t see the morality of killing people anywhere, despite the fractions, as a defensible action when we were not directly attacked.”

            First, this is exactly what we agree to do when we form alliances. An attack on one is an attack on all, which presumably would reduce the number of wars. If Canada or the UK was invaded, for example, we would rush to their aid, as they would rush to ours.

            Secondly, we have to be able to foresee and forestall future events. For example, if ISIS’s was proclaiming that they were going to destroy the US, and in the meantime, they were going to amass a weapons stockpile, including dirty nuclear bombs, in the Middle East with which they would attack the US, then we would pre-emotively strike them.

            A third reason is to shore up geopolitical stability. Sometimes the rise of a dictator or the fall of a world leader 3 thousand miles away will affect us back home.

            I’m personally looking forward to the day that we no longer need a single drop of Middle Eastern Oil. No more worries about the OPEC embargo that caused panic and ground our movements to a halt in the 70’s. People were wondering how their groceries were going to be delivered to the store. People couldn’t get to work. Lines at gas stations miles long. We will continue to protect the international oil supply until we don’t need foreign oil anymore, likely through a combination of restructuring our supply, increasing domestic producing, and alternative energy. Just think of how the Middle East’s influence and ability to fund carnage and terrorism will be sharply curtailed when the world won’t need oil anymore.

            • Sorry I’m so late on this Karen. Founding Fathers warned us to stay away from entangling alliances. I would think watching the world go down the drain in 1917 would demonstrate that without further comment.

              We have enabled ISIS, and all the rest of that trash over there. It was a good thing Trump did to at least cut the funding to one of those groups that seem to morph by the day. They are getting their arms and Toyotas from somewhere.

              Gaddafi was about 3,000 mi away. Most of these threats are manufactured as an instrument of profit.

              I would think it’s clear where the existential threats are, and they ain’t outside the borders.

              Maybe they’ll solve containment for fusion reactions in the near future, but don’t think that won’t come without a far reaching cost either. Oil companies aren’t just going to abandon all their infrastructure around the world.

      • I agree…we live in a period of cognitive defensiveness. Protecting pre-conceived attitudes is valued more than openness to counter-narrative information.

    • If male enjoyment of military history is their testosterone, what is female enjoyment?

      If you saw Dunkirk, you missed many of its points. Put away the leftist feminist usurpation of being human where differences abound. You are wearing colored glasses that block out the compassion, generosity and humanity.

    • There is nothing useful about the details of men attacking each other.

      No, it’s just too intellectually demanding for you.

    • Hmmmm, how would you suggest was the best way to curtail Hitler’s takeover of the world and the Holocaust? Just let him kill all the Jews and become Nazis? I wonder if Hitler would have let Doctors without Borders to continue? Would you reason with Hitler? Ask him to stop gassing little kids? Maybe some sanctions?

      I think that when people step up and serve our country, and fight wars even though they are scared, getting killed, maimed, or surviving, then the least we should do as citizens is learn about what happened and what they faced.

      • Oh, and just think – all of those North Koreans we hear about starving in the streets, including little children, died because our politicians stopped us at the 37th parallel. We’d never be concerned about North Korea building nukes or testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the US if we weren’t stopped at the 37th parallel and just won the war.

        • It was the 38th parallel. The agreement was that the Russians would take the surrender of the Japanese army north of that line.

          I don’t know who made the agreement and when. Might have been in Yalta.

  14. ““Dunkirk felt like an excuse for men to celebrate maleness — which apparently they don’t get to do enough.” ”

    Brilliant movie, anything but a celebration of maleness. The woman who wrote this comment has not the slightest understanding of what Dunkirk was all about and how a people pulled together to rescue 330,000 lives that would have been lost potentially along with Britain herself. They suffered, they died, but they continued forward as a people despite the mindset of petty, self-absorbed people like Bonner.

    • What’s wrong with celebrating maleness? Is it the acknowledgement that their are endeavours beyond the capability of women?

      Can you imagine getting stuck in a domestic arrangement with this callow shrike?

      • DSS, Your characterization of doglover, shrike, AKA as the butcherbird. How apropos.

        There is nothing wrong with celebrating maleness or femaleness, but using such a term as ‘celebrating’ maleness with regards to this movie where violence was so paralyzing and so real makes one wonder about the sado-masochim doglover must have deep within her.

    • The myth lives on. 338,000 in all were rescued. 200,000 by British and French warships; 115,000 by large passenger ferries, manned mostly by naval or merchant marine crews; 18,500 by civilian-crewed small boats. So, about 5% were rescued by civilians. Is this what the movie showed?

      • It seems to me that it could have been much, much worse. I wonder if Paul knows anything about the policy of Germans at the end of the operation. They had everything in place to pretty much erase every living human.

      • Bettykath, I think you miss the point of how this battle became everyone’s battle. But, numbers-wise you are reasonably correct. Many soldiers were evacuated from the docks onto large ships (ferries are not warships). I’m not sure of the 18,500 for many of the large ships did not dock, but had many soldiers ferried out to them by the small ships.

        The bravery of those on those small ships that didn’t have to be there should be applauded, not questioned. They risked their own lives to save the lives of their countrymen.

      • bettykath, it mattered to that 5%. If one of them had been a loved one of yours, it would have mattered to you, as well.

        • Of course, it mattered to the 5%. The point that I’m making is that the myth makes it out that 95% or so were brought out by civilian ships. It’s a distortion of history. It’s pro-war propaganda. The Battle of Britain – so many owe so few (paraphrased) is also nonsense. The Brits had the much larger air force in both number of planes and number of pilots. Was the battle a big one? yes. Did it matter? yes. But it wasn’t what the pro-war propaganda made it out to be. The lies were intended to make people support the war and they weren’t corrected immediately after. Wars make liars of all the proponents.

          • bettykath – The Battle of Britain was won because England had a good radar system and could send planes directly to where the German planes were. Very efficient. The Germans attacked the radar system only once and did not attack after it was repaired. Also, Hitler decided to stop going after the fighter planes just when they were at the end of their tether. That is when he started bombing London. This gave the fighter squadrons time to recover.

          • bettykath, “It’s pro-war propaganda.”

            There of course was pro-war propaganda. Britain was fighting for its life and could have been defeated, so I am not quite sure what this nonesense is all about unless one is unhappy with the outcome of the war. Comparing the air forces is a difficult thing to do since counting the number of planes and pilots is not how one compares the total strength of one side or the other. I strongly believe that at the beginning of the Battle of Britain the Germans had a more experienced pilots than the British.That is of great importance. Numerically I think the German Luftwafer was greater in size than the RAF, but the RAF did have production capabilities. Most importantly the British had radar.

            It sounds as if you perceive yourself on a perch high above all others, judging them, but you can only assume that false vision because of the blood of those soldiers that kept you free.

      • The movie shows what appear to be Navy personnel (or perhaps the Ministry of Shipping) requisitioning the small boats (speedboats and personal pleasure craft) that were in port along South England and instructing the owners that the boats would be captained by Navy sailors. That was no doubt because the Navy did not want to put the civilian owners at risk. Nevertheless, manpower shortages demanded some boats be manned with civilian crews. Mark Rylance’s character in the film takes his own boat across the Channel to Dunkirk, so he appears to represent the many civilians engaged in the evacuation effort. Appears to me to be historically accurate, but perhaps not up to your standards.

        • Cape Cod, I know this was to Betty, but I agree to the importance of placing a civilian in that role to demonstrate that almost all Britain’s military and civilian populations were engaged in the war. They were a unified nation.

          • Thanks for the comment, allan. I agree with you. This movie was a snapshot of the war, and to present everything through the lens of the military would make it redundant. I have only watched this interview with Nolan, and he says he wanted this movie to be personal and subjective. At ~3:00, he talks about crossing the Channel to Dunkirk in a small boat, how long it took, and how risky it was. Imagine that anxiety knowing you may be bombed when you arrive.

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