How to See ‘Dunkirk’ without Watching the Film

Or how I saw only half of a movie during a typical Saturday cinema escapade.

Yesterday my wife and I made an attempt to see Christopher Nolan’s new supposed masterpiece, Dunkirk. We were both mildly excited while not one hundred percent sure what the film would be about. We knew the film was a World War II film. We knew it was about the British. We knew it involved some kind of rescue. But I’m not as familiar as I probably should of the tale of Dunkirk. Which is saying something about my attention span.

I studied History in college. I took a few World War II classes. But, Dunkirk? … Dunkirk? .. doesn’t ring a bell.

I have the kind of personality where I tend to research everything. So, I did my research on the film. I avoided reading film reviews, other than the headlines. It was hard to miss the critics’ positive analysis. I even discovered, according to my research, 70% of the movie was filmed in the IMAX format. I, therefore, convinced myself and my wife that the only way to see this film as Christopher Nolan would have preferred is in an IMAX theatre. In IMAX seats. At IMAX prices.

The last two times I went to see an IMAX were unlucky affairs.

Never Go Full IMAX


When Interstellar was out, I went to the Air & Space museum’s IMAX theatre with a friend and a friend of a friend. This IMAX theatre has open seats. But we were able to get seats before the film sold out. The seats we ended up sitting were in the very front row. I saw every crevasse of Matthew McConaughey’s face. Every flared nose hair. It was more intimate than what I would ever have wanted. I and my sore neck were just not ready for that kind fo commitment with Mr. “Alright! Alright!”

The second time, my wife and I tried to see another film, which name escapes me at the moment. And I’m not going to try to remember it. But by the time we arrived the show was sold out.

Dunkirk in IMAX

This time I was ready. I preordered our tickets. The IMAX theatre we went to had assigned seating. So I was able to ensure we had goods seats regardless when we arrived. The theatre in question was an AMC theatre in Alexandria, VA.

This being a Saturday, and it being the only thing we were going to do today, we decided to make a date out of it. We parked our car in the parking garage and arrived almost two hours before the film started. We grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and then made our way over with thirty minutes to spare.

Now every movie theatre I have attended in the past (at least in the last ten years) has made it a practice to start previews at the time when the film is often advertised to start. An 8:00 film would show ten minutes worth of previews and advertisement before starting the film around ten after eight. We, believing this was also standard at AMC, were not too concerned when we got in line for popcorn and coke, twenty minutes before the show started.

This line, a very organized line with rope and poles, took twenty minutes to get through. The staff behind the concession stand seemed way too relaxed to be serving anxious theatre goers like myself. I wanted to pull them each aside and yell at them to show a little more respect to this paying patron. As we move through the line at the speed of molasses, I grew more and more concerned.

“This will not do,” I told myself. I started pulling my phone every time a minute passed us by. Every fleeting second when instead of hearing “Next” I instead saw the sands of time mock me with every change it had.

My wife, feeling somewhat frustrated with my annoyance with the speed of the line, suggested I go take my seat. She would get the popcorn and soda. I, however, refused to leave her side. I am after all a man of who stands by his woman … as long as she says it’s okay.

By the time we made it through the line and purchased our popcorn and soda it was the exact minute, the film was supposed to start. In my head, I was like, “Well, we just made it.” But as we walked in the theatre, instead of walking in the middle of previews already playing, the film was already playing. And by my estimate it had been going for a good solid fifteen minutes.

Dumbfounded I took my seat. My wife ate her popcorn and shrugged.

Not on my watch!

It appeared we were in the middle of a battle scene. Fighter planes were flying. I didn’t know what to do? I am not the kind of person who sits through a movie that has already started. I don’t even like missing the previews. I am a bit of a traditionalist. I have to see from the beginning to end. And a Christopher Nolan demands one see it from the beginning to end. This isn’t a Keven Hart comedy. Or a romantic comedy where one can kind of figure out where they are. This is mother fucking Christopher Nolan.

I walked out to file my complaint with management. To the credit of management, they responded quickly. But as I wait for the manager to confirm when the film started versus the advertised start time, the time had already passed. I realized they weren’t going to restart the movie on my behalf. If anything, they would give me a refund. But my wife told me I needed to get back in the theatre and just deal with it. She argued we could complain afterward.

This is how much I love my wife. I went back to the theatre and sat through the rest of the film. But I just could not enjoy it. I was fucking lost. I felt the whole experience was ruined. By the time the film ended, I was not a happy camper.

We marched to the Guest Services station and filed an official complaint. Another couple, who had experienced the same folly as us, confirmed the error. As a result, they refunded our tickets and offered our two free tickets to use at a future time. I felt that was more than fair.

It is a good film. But I’m not going to say definitively as such until I had another chance to see the movie again. From beginning to end.

And so, in closing, these are my first world problems.


3 thoughts on “How to See ‘Dunkirk’ without Watching the Film

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