There is something sacred about home. In every human, there is a deep longing to be in a place where you are safe, secure, and loved. To be where you belong. This produces stories like The Wizard of Oz, like The Odyssey. These stories, and many more like them, touch on that feeling of displacement, of being strangers in a world that you don’t belong in. Of being exiled, cast from the Garden of Eden and awaiting the time when you can return.
Dunkirk is a story of home. The movie recounts event of a battle in World War II, where 400,000 Allied troops are trapped on Dunkirk beach in 1940, surrounded by Nazi soldiers. Strafed by German airplanes, the soldiers await the day when England will send enough ships to rescue them from the French beach.
At one point during the movie, (also shown in the trailer) one character, Commander Bolton, speaks to his captain as they look across the English Channel.
“You can practically see it from here,” Bolton says.
The entire film is plagued with a feeling of despairing homesickness. To be home would mean safety, family, good food. And it’s only twenty-six miles away, right across the water. But the soldiers are trapped on the beach, awaiting near-certain doom and unable to return home. It’s a reminder of what Adam and Eve may have felt as they looked at the angels guarding Eden. So close, so far.
As the movie progresses, the story takes a dramatic shift. You learn that England is sending rescue boats, and you wonder if they will arrive in time. In one of the high points of the movie, Commander Bolton speaks to the captain once more, in a reversal of the first segment of dialogue. They look across the English Channel.
“What do you see?” The captain asks.
The camera pans over to show the rescue boats arriving to the beach, many of them sailed by civilians, sacrificing their safety for the lives of these soldiers. England has come.
And the catharsis, that deep experience of emotion, occurs right then. When you realize that these soldiers could never have made in back to England by themselves, could never have come home, if home had not come for them first.
Do you see Jesus? As beautiful as the rescue of these soldiers is, how much more stunning is Christ’s rescue of humanity. To quote an old hymn, “Heaven came down, and glory filled my soul…”
Humans were exiled when they rebelled against God. The ultimate home is being in the presence of God. But this was lost when we sinned, and, for all but two humans (Adam and Eve), humans are born in exile and die in exile. For our entire lives, we live homeless.
But Dunkirk reminds us that our home has come to rescue us. We are surrounded by evil, behind, in front, inside. To put it even more provocatively, we are the Nazis, the ones least deserving of rescue. The ones who tricked themselves into thinking that Earth was their home to be conquered.
But Christ came, home came, to pull us from our delusions. The truest place of solace, God’s presence, is where we belong. And it sits on the other side of cross, the veil torn opened by Christ.
I’m not arguing that Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk’s director) intended for us to make these parallels. I’m arguing that when he explores the feeling of despairing exile, he is tapping into a transcendent truth: That the reason we feel homesick and defeated in life, trapped on the beach, is because we aren’t home yet.
But home came to rescue us, and Christians look forward to the day when we no longer live in exile, but can enter the land that God has promised us.
When we can return home.