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The  Battle of Dunkirk is one of the miracles of World War II. Probably most Americans don’t know about it because the battle took place in 1940, before America entered the Second World War. By 1940, Adolf Hitler was at the height of his power: European countries were falling before his armies like dominoes, and by the end of May, they had forced the British and the French right up to the English Channel -- and then stopped.

Historians still debate why, but the common sense answer is obvious: why waste soldiers and materiel when dropping bombs and firing machine guns from the air is easier, faster, and conserves manpower? 

The days that followed gave the British a chance to get some of their men out, and in a magnificent display of patriotism, just about everyone in England who had a boat -- fishing vessels, yachts, small pleasure crafts -- went over in a rescue mission unparalleled to this day: more than 300,000 French and British soldiers made it out alive.

In his film, Christopher Nolan pulls out all the stops. Instead of giving us a traditional narrative, in which we have characters whom we come to know and a cohesive storyline, Nolan splits into three narrative threads: some the action takes place over a week, some in a day, and, in the case of the aerial sequence, one hour. We are given the utter madness, chaos, and danger of war. Hardly any of the characters are named; things are happening too fast for anyone to introduce himself. 

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