‘Dunkirk’ and the Haunted Longing for Home

We recently ran a Film Night at Dundonald as part of our week of Mission events on “A Better Story”. 100 people packed into our make-shift cinema, enjoyed popcorn & pick ’n’ mix, and watched the triple Oscar-winning film. Following the film, we spent some time discussing our highlights, before Tom gave a short talk. Here are his thoughts:

“You can almost see it from here… Home.”

I’ve now watched Dunkirk about four times in the last few weeks, and I still can’t get enough of it. I’m not quite sure what it is it about it – it’s intoxicating.

For me, the word ‘home’ encapsulates a lot of what the film was about.

It was utterly captivating – how in amongst the tumult and chaos of war, at the heart of every soldier was this desperate desire to get home. It’s actually quite an exhausting film to watch, because the tension never lets up (the relentless Hans Zimmer score only adds to it). You watch the entire film on the edge of your seat, wondering if the characters will make it home or not.

And so this all makes the moment when “home” arrives wonderfully cathartic, as the flotilla of boats arrives from across the channel. It’s the first point where there is some melodic resolution in the film – there’s been over an hour of musical tension, but at the point of ‘home’ arriving, the music changes, and we’re given the first notes of hope (see YouTube clip). It’s utterly moving. I weep along with Kenneth Branagh every time. You can’t help but feel it, after the chaos of everything that has come before. The sweet joy of feeling like we’re on the way home, at last. It grips us. It draws us in to the longing to be home. You can’t not watch this film and be captured by it, emotionally, in some way, shape or form.

Rest from the Chaos?

I think this desire for home is one which gets to us, because we all have that longing.

Now, if you’re reading this then you’re likely not fighting in a war. I don’t want to be trite, or to in any way suggest that we face is remotely similar as to what those soldiers really did face on the beaches of Dunkirk not that long ago. The horrors of warfare are incomparable.

But the film is effective because it taps into something of the chaos of life, and the longing for peace, and the longing for rest in a place called “home”.

It’s not just Dunkirk. Hundreds of films employ this narrative emphasis. Think about a film like Lord of the Rings, directed by the other Hollywood giant, Peter Jackson. The whole trilogy is driven not just by a need to destroy the ring, but by a longing from the protagonists to get back to the Shire.

Because this world can feel mad. It can feel, so often, like chaos. Our lives can often feel like that Hans Zimmer score for this film – just relentless, no letting up.

In our relationships, in our work, in our health, in our homes.

And we go through life with this longing for the sweet release of being picked up by the friendly boat and taken off into the sunset to a place where the chaos and confusion is over.

For rest. For peace. For…home.

We look for it in lots of places – in relationships, in family, in food, in the latest Netflix release.

But the thing is, those feelings of ‘I’m home – I’ve escaped the chaos!’ don’t last forever.

‘Home’ is often never quite what we’d envisaged it to be. Much like the soldiers who return home, somewhat disillusioned to the green fields of England – the feeling of “I’m home!” is often fleeting, slipping through our fingers, as we search for rest from the chaos.

Home at last!

But here’s the rub: the haunted longing for home is something which can only be resolved by the hope of the message of the Bible.

The story of the Bible is all about that longing. A longing to get home. A longing to get back to what we’ve lost. In fact, it’s about a far bigger story of rescue than Dunkirk. It’s a far bigger story of being brought home.

There are some sentences in the Bible which read like this. Jesus is talking to his friends, and he says:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms… And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am”

This is what Jesus came to do – he came to take us home.

We were made by God for relationship with him, but we’ve walked away from that. We are, if you like, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk. And the deep-down longing that each of us feels for something more, that yearning for home and rest that seems to transcend everything here on earth – it’s a longing to return to God. But how do we get home?

Well Jesus comes and he says: believe in me, and I will bring you home.

Home, to eternity with God forever. It’s what we were made for. It’s the longing that a film like Dunkirk taps into.

There’s a great scene at the end of the famous Narnia series by C.S.Lewis, where one of the characters enters true Narnia and says: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it ’til now”.

I wonder if you know something of that longing, that searching for home. It’s hard, because everything around us screams at us that our home is here, and that this immanent world is all there is. Lewis wrote, in another book, that: “Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth”.

But despite that, we can’t deny the nagging sense that there must be more than this. And though I can’t imagine Christopher Nolan intended it this way, it’s what Dunkirk masterfully taps into.

A longing for home.

And the hope for the Christian is that this longing for home will one day be realised, as we go to be with God in heaven forever, through believing in Jesus.

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