Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I'm Entitled To Your Opinion Dep't: Mehera Bonner Reviews Dunkirk

The meat of her criticism is actually apt; the film doesn't appear to have an actual plot, but instead is a series of pastiches of interwoven stories: the older man (Mr. Dawson) piloting a private pleasure boat to rescue Tommies on the Dunkirk beach, the outnumbered fighter pilots taking on relentless Luftwaffe adversaries hectoring ground troops and sinking transports, the young soldier separated from his unit trying against the odds to make it home (Tommy), the commanders in charge of moving the men off the beach and onto the absurdly small (and shrinking daily) numbers of available military transports. That is, she's not wrong in this specific complaint.

But the film itself has earned a great deal of praise, and deservedly so, despite the overall failing of lacking apparent narrative. Part of that is because we already know the outcome: Britain's fathers came to the rescue of her sons, and even a significant number of French troops as well. It is beautifully photographed, flawlessly acted, and rippling with dramatic tension from the opening until almost the close. None of these virtues apparently appeal to Bonner:
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. If this movie were a dating profile pic, it would be a swole guy at the gym who also goes to Harvard. If it was a drink it would be Stumptown coffee. If it was one of your friends, it would be the one who starts his sentences with "I get what you're saying, but..."
How terrible — someone makes movies that appeal to men? Her reaction isn't quite "THIS MUST STOP NOW", but you can hear her mentally outfitting anyone who actually likes the film with an invisible fedora (the universal headgear of the MRA). The idea that men died in battle so that someone like Bonner could spout narcissistic and childish opinions is itself cringe-worthy, but as Kyle Smith ably answers in National Review Online, the problem is really a branch of the Annie Wilkes model of culture (emboldening mine):
In a moment of clarity I understood what the two main imperatives of higher education were to Absurd Feminist and to so many of her peers: First, instead of broadening her horizons and taking her outside herself to discover the world, she demanded the educators filter all knowledge through her own experience to make it relatable to her. Second, all learning was to be valued in proportion to how effectively it could be made into a cudgel in the identity-politics war. Dispatches, with its virtually all-male cast, represented a pernicious advance for the patriarchy, even if it was about the agonies suffered by men.
It seems unlikely that Marie Claire’s reviewer, Mehera Bonner, has before her an exceptionally bright career of writing about film. As for a career of writing about feminism, though, the sky, for Bonner, is the limit. Her essay could plausibly have appeared on any number of bristling feminist sites. What is her reasoning except feminism taken to its logical extreme? Feminists often declare to the world that they stand merely for an entirely reasonable proposition — say, that women’s lives are as important as men’s. Who would dispute that? Yet feminist writing usually continues far past this point into a need to prove women and men have been equally important in every context, even in history. If women turn out to be mostly irrelevant to an incident, then it is the moral duty of socially conscious creative artists to ignore the matter. They should retrain their sights on something that will give absurd feminists something they can relate to, something that will advance the cause of feminism in general.
 She doesn't like the movie; fine, we get that. But as Smith observes, "Feminism means constant maintenance of an imaginary set of scales, and she fears Dunkirk adds weight to the masculine side, tipping the culture away from women." What could be more absurd?

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