During Dunkirk, we may see some Nazi German airplanes, such as He 111, Junkers Ju 87 and Bf-109. Also at the end, when Farrier is being captured, we may recognize Nazi German soldiers. But during the whole film, there is no single mention of Nazi Germany, only of a general "enemy".

I have never seen movie like this and I'm wondering, is there any particular reason why Nazis are called just "the enemy" in Dunkirk?

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    Just a guess (and I will look to see if I can find evidence to support it later), but perhaps it was to make it seem a bit timeless in that Nolan wanted you care more about the terror of the experience the soldiers had, rather than taking a viewer out of that by explicitly stating what war it was, as Nazi would be a verbal anachronism, and that the choice of Dunkirk and WWII was more of a convenient plot device and just met the aesthetic and strategical ideals of his film's greater agenda/purpose. Dec 7, 2018 at 22:31
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    @DarthLocke You're not that far off. The primary motivation was making it a suspense film rather than a war film. He's said that in multiple interviews. Nice question, though.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 7, 2018 at 22:34
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    I'd have to watch again - but do they really not use any term like German, Jerry, Fritz, Hun, or Kraut? The British troops usually did not use the word Nazi because most of the forces they faced were Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kreigsmarine, and not actually Nazis.
    – HorusKol
    Dec 7, 2018 at 23:39
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    I would agree Nazi isn't synonymous with German Army. Yes the term was used alongside German, Kraut etc .... and while the German armed services were under political control of the party, had many members of the party, they were not the same thing. The Waffen-SS was the armed division of the SS, part of the Nazi party .. and was a relatively small part of the overall armed services.
    – iandotkelly
    Dec 8, 2018 at 2:39
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    @HorusKol Yes, you are absolutly right about the terms Jerry, Kraut, etc., but I wasnt entirely sure everyone would understand these (kind of offensive) terms used for Germans. So instead I used term everyone should understand, even thought its not correct.
    – kocica
    Dec 8, 2018 at 9:49

1 Answer 1


Possibly to make it more of a suspense thriller, rather than a typical war film. (Thank you Napoleon Wilson for pointing me in a direction).

You save a lot of money on paper,” he jokes about his 76-page script, which is roughly half the length of his typical screenplays. “Dunkirk” relies on visual imagery, not conversation, to propel the story, which can be a gamble. The characters are blank slates who offer no details about the lovers they left back home, their senses of humor or their previous heroic deeds.

My idea was that, instead of trying to explain through dialogue why we should care about them, we use the language of suspense — we use the language of the Hitchcock thriller — to create immediate empathy with the people on-screen by virtue of their physical situations,” he says.

One could argue that using certain words or certain words too often, would take away from/pull us away from the sheer suspense and terror the viewer experiences with the soldiers, because it reminds us of "time", -a specific time and although there are surely references to no doubt point to Dunkirk and World War II during the film, they are subtle and aren't the most important thing.

AP: What kind of fascination does time hold for you as a filmmaker? It’s a sometimes underrated element of the medium, isn’t it?

Nolan: It is and it’s a misunderstood element of the medium. Conventional film grammar has an unbelievably sophisticated approach to modulating an audience’s sense of time. The films I’ve made, I’ve tried to grab a hold of what in most films is a subtlety. It’s there but the audience isn’t particularly conscious of it. I’ve tried to take it and use it for the tool that it is because I think it’s a tool that’s unique to cinema. The idea that we can go to the same movie theater, look at the same screen for the same period of time, and we could be watching something that represents hours or we could be watching something that represents millennia, and we’re fine with that. Cinema has this amazing ability to change and manipulate people’s feelings about time while they’re watching a film.

One film review that I think Describes it well:

Dunkirk is overwhelming in an exceptional sort of way, a film that demands close study of everything seen and heard. It’s a series of functioning contradictions, walking a tightrope in a stomach-dropping exercise of assured craftsmanship. It’s a film both timeless and of-the-moment. Airy, yet packed to the brim. Fast, but reflective. It’s a white-knuckle fable that strips the politics and gore of war down to the most elemental and essential storytelling. This is a film of fear, hope, and survival. The technical acumen, fleet-footed pacing, traversing narratives, and insistence on precise artistry and design make Dunkirk unlike any other blockbuster on the market. And yet it learns and borrows from the great films, taking the time to maximize its photographic, editorial, and musical elements to stirring effect.

  • I'm not entirely sure how the part about time relates to the questio nso much, though.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Dec 8, 2018 at 0:00
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    Because it's a technique to help with the suspense. You nearly forget all about that it's WWII, because you have invested in the full experience of the terror more! It's why the AP Q was asked and why Nolan answered, because it IS apart of Nolan's approach to the film. (If you click on the link, it is in an interview about Dunkirk). Dec 8, 2018 at 0:02
  • And honestly, it can obviously be inferred that "the enemy" is Nazi Germany. It's the battle at Dunkirk and world history during WWII. There wouldn't have been any other "Enemy" they were fighting against. The director would have known that (and hopefully the audience too!!). Dec 11, 2018 at 18:37

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