That Moment You Realize Your Teen Sons Can Watch ‘Dunkirk’ With You

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Dunkirk movie poster
I discovered I can watch Dunkirk with my sons.

Wow. It was seven years ago this week that I first started writing for GeekMom.

Wow.

It was within a few months of the blog’s launch. The group of us was smaller and much of our content consisted of long-form essays about parenting while sharing our geeky passions. I enjoyed writing in that style immensely.

I leaped right in in January 2011 with stories of my then-8- and 6-year old sons. Stories of their toys, their birthday parties, their favorite shows, their favorite books, and our family’s cosplay adventures.

As my sons grew up, my writing about their lives became fewer and farther between. Many things happened: I got a full-time job, my sons became less interested in toys, and my sons became less interested in talking to their parents quite so much. My writing shifted focus to reviews and geeky news announcements, rather than essays about my parenting experiences.

My sons are now 15 and almost-13. They’re essentially full-fledged teens: eating a Costco-shopping-trip’s worth of groceries every week, outgrowing their clothing faster than I can keep up, and interacting with Dad and Mom mostly to ask for money or a ride to sports, Scouts, or a friend’s house.

Wow. Where did the time go?

Wow. How did I become the shortest member of the family?

Wow. I just took my oldest son out for his first driving lesson this week!

One of the things I am excited about with teenage sons is being able to up the ante on frank discussions about history, current events, and other tough topics.

This past weekend we enjoyed somewhat of a World War II movie marathon. I don’t think it’s come up in my writings, but I am definitely a war movie geek, with films such as Zulu, Patton, and Twelve ‘o Clock High among my favorite movies in the world.

First, we watched Dunkirk, set in May 1940, and then, on a whim, we found the 2005 film Downfall on Showtime on Demand, a film set in April 1945.

My husband and I had seen Dunkirk in theaters on a date night in July, in a large part due to GeekDad Dave’s “10 Things” review. The movie is not overtly graphic or bloody, but the combination of music and suspenseful cinematography will still leave you pretty spooked…almost shellshocked.

Could our sons handle it? After all, a teenager loses his life, and I have to admit I was pretty anxious when I left the theater in July.

My oldest son, an aviation geek, was very interested in Dunkirk’s amazing dogfight scenes, and the rest of the film ended up capturing his attention pretty solidly. My youngest son peppered us with questions about the real Battle of Dunkirk. Both boys tried to fit the Dunkirk operation into the bigger picture of what they had learned about World War II so far:

“Was this before or after Pearl Harbor?”

“Before, by about 1 1/2 years.”

“So there probably weren’t any Americans stuck on the beach?”

“Probably not. There were some aviators in an advisory role starting in 1940, but not many.” (According to Wikipedia, the some U.S. aviation squadrons began flying with the RAF in the second half of 1940, after the Dunkirk evacuation.)

“How many boats did they need to help move all those soldiers across the English Channel?”

<Googles> “It appears to be around 850, according to Wikipedia.”

Our family then discussed the Dunkirk operation in a larger context, including how the Germans had a chance to regroup, overrun Paris, and ultimately conquer France by the end of June 1940.

Later that evening, my husband decided to start the movie Downfall, which is a film about Adolf Hitler’s last days. Everyone in the house has seen numerous memes in which the subtitles of the film are changed out to fit whatever you like, so we figured it’d be interesting to see the movie whence the meme originated. Enjoy one of my personal favorites of those memes:

Wow. That movie — in its original un-memed form — is NOT for the faint of heart! My sons did a great job keeping up with the subtitles. The movie is actually more graphic than Dunkirk, in that it shows Nazis taking their lives at the very end, and there are even multiple scenes where some prominent Nazi families take their children’s’ lives.

That was tough to watch. 

More questions ensued:

“What happened to Germany after Hitler died?”

“Was he really that crazy?”

“Were they really partying like that in the bunkers while everyone else died in bombings?”

“How were Japan and Italy involved?” <We will approach the Japan question later this year. See below.>

Even now, I’m not completely sure if my sons are old enough to have seen Downfall. I was perfectly okay with Dunkirk, for some reason. Both movies are accounts of history; one might argue that both movies are accounts of history that we don’t like to talk about. But it’s worth exploring just the same.

Later this year, my family is planning a trip to Hawaii. While we definitely plan to spend most of our time on the beach, at the top of the sightseeing list is a trip to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, Ford Island, and Pearl Harbor. This will invariably start conversations about the Pacific theater battles of World War II. The much-less-refined side of the war. The amazing stories of resilience in horrific conditions that can be shown in the miniseries The Pacific, and films such as Unbroken.

My sons are growing up. They’re asking tough questions. They’re seeing some big changes occurring in our country…in our world. They worry about whether the U.S. is heading to war soon.

As I had said in my very first post with GeekMom seven years ago: In our house we don’t dilute the Kool-Aid. When my sons ask questions, my husband and I want to present them facts and try to help them frame opinions on their own…even if they aren’t the same opinions their parents have.