Dunkirk - A Technology Forecasting analysis

2021-02-09

Dunkirk, a movie by acclaimed filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, has three merging story lines. It is an intriguing World War II plot and tracks three soldiers.

When Prof. Dmitry Kucharavy and I launched a course on Technology Forecasting on NPTEL, it struck me that one of the topics in the course is so similar to this movie. The topic was decision making. There are three types of decision making - Strategic, tactical and operational decision making.

Tommy (the foot soldier), Dawson (on the Moonshot), and Farrier (on a Spitfire, fighter plane) are the three merging story lines in the movie.

Strategic (long term, but unpredictable), Tactical (Medium term, but part-predictable), Operational (Short term, but fast-paced) are the three types of decision making modes.

Let’s tabulate the differences between the three modes and also compare it with what’s going on in the movie, shall we?

Table 1: Tommy (Strategic), Dawson (Tactical) and Farrier (Operational) - A comparison of the three main characters of the movie, Dunkirk.
Strategic Tactical Operational
(Tommy, foot soldier) (Dawson, on the Moonshot) (Farrier, on a Spitfire)
Messy Part messy, part clean Almost squeaky clean
Unpredictable Some predictability Very predictable
Too many variables Few variables Not many variables
Tough to see the effects on one’s decisions Effects of some decisions apparent Instant realization of effects
Long term Medium term Short term

The comparison

Tommy, the foot soldier, goes through so many events that he feels that he has no apparent control over what goes on in his world. There are some players (his comrades), who seem to help him. He has his mission laid out clearly though - reach home.

Dawson, over on the boat Moonshot, is the only one in the movie, who has a view of what is happening with Tommy as well as Farrier. Dawson represents the middle term, middle tier, middle management, who see it all. They understand strategy and also influence the operational personnel. Dawson helps out one of the Spitfire victims as well as many of the people that Tommy meets.

Lastly, Farrier, is one who has his finger on the trigger and has to make split-second decisions. His vision of the mission of his country is a bit hazy. He can only relate to the mission at hand.

I found this topic of decision making pretty intriguing and I liked the movie Dunkirk. Hope this article helped you in understanding the topic better.

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