Stranded in the port town of Dunkirk, France, amid a pre-World War II battle is about the last place we’d expect to see a boy band pop star. But it’s exactly where viewers of Christopher Nolan’s epic war film, Dunkirk, will find former One Direction-er Harry Styles, who makes his acting debut today (July 21) in the wide release of the nerve-jangling war drama.
In just under two hours, the film follows the true story of roughly 400,000 British and French soldiers as they attempt to evacuate Dunkirk by boat following a losing battle without a.) being shot at by enemy forces, b.) sinking, c.) drowning or d.) all of the above. Among them, we find Styles as the British soldier Alex — though it’s hard to find a single time anyone calls him by name during the movie.
Rather than focus on a protagonist, the film follows three separate groups united in the same goal of evacuation. As a result, no one actor has more lines or scenes than the rest, but Styles is one of the only named characters in the largely anonymous cast. He also snags some of the film’s best lines, though to be fair, there’s not much dialogue going on to begin with.
So what exactly is Styles doing here — and will his character survive in the end? Below, we attempt to find out. Scroll on, if you must, for a chronological list of just about everything the recently gone solo singer-songwriter says and does in the movie.
1. Gets saved by a fellow Brit soldier just moments before being crushed by a sinking ship. Styles fans will have to wait around 30 minutes for the singer to make his entrance. But it’s worth the delay: Styles emerges (almost too) gracefully from the ocean, and even among the thrashing waves and floating debris, we can’t mistake those murky green eyes.
2. Climbs aboard a new boat, soaking wet but safe, for now. We still haven’t heard a peep from Styles — ahem, Alex — at this point.
3. Climbs a rope up to, you guessed it, another boat. Yep, there are a lot of boats in this movie. At this point, Styles appears to be safe, and joins a group of young soldiers including the character who first saved him, “Tommy,” played by Fionn Whitehead.
4. Looks longingly down the boat’s stairwell when a woman mentions “a nice cup of tea” down there. *Swoon*
5. Stuffs his face with toast and jam. Still no words from the star, but he’s kind of got his mouth full.
6. Is confused by a character who does not appear to want toast and jam. He speaks! “What’s wrong with your friend?” Styles asks. Suspicious.
7. Darts his eyes around the room suspiciously. Still shoveling in the toast and jam.
8. Yells — and almost smiles — with the rest of the crew on board. Don’t get too relieved, Harry, we still have an hour left of the movie here.
9. Almost drowns when shots are fired at the boat, flooding the lower deck. Not the toast!
10. Triumphantly swims to the surface, gasping for air, and abandons ship. It’s worth noting that at this point, Styles somehow still looks great. Is this what he meant while writing “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful?”
11. Swims to a paddle boat in the pitch black darkness, but gets pushed back into the water by a soldier onboard who thinks he’ll capsize the boat. So close!
12. Swims back to shore, and lays slumped on the sand. 🙁
13. Stares impatiently at the ocean. Probably thinking about toast.
14. Falls asleep, then wakes up on the shore, and says his second line! Sorry to disappoint, but it’s just “hey.” Styles sees a group of soldiers walking determinedly, and wants to know where they’re going. Surprise: they’ve found another boat.
15. Hides inside the boat with the other young soldiers, and continues being rude to the guy who doesn’t eat toast. “See if the water’s coming in,” Styles says. They’ll need to wait for the tide to begin before they can sail — but no-toast-man isn’t amused. “Talkative soul, aren’t ya?” Styles jabs sarcastically.
16. Yells “f–k’s sake.” You read that in a British accent, didn’t you?
17. Interrogates a soldier who returns to the abandoned boat. “Why’d you leave your boat?” Styles yells. At this point, Styles and around 10 other men are hiding in the lower deck. Suddenly, they hear gunshots — someone is shooting holes in the boat.
18. Looks frustrated when a soldier gets shot while attempting to plug the holes. “We have to plug it!” cries Styles, looking around desperately. “After you, mate,” replies a fellow soldier. Sorry, Harry — we’re kind of with him on this.
19. Claims that someone needs to “get off” the ship to avoid sinking. We don’t really get his reasoning, since there are still tons of holes in the ship, but we’ll roll with it.
20. Says menacingly, “we don’t need a volunteer. I know someone who will get off.” Uh-oh. We all know who he’s talking about.
21. Accuses the man who didn’t want toast of being a German spy, and points a gun at him. Things are getting dark.
22. Makes a kind of racist joke. “You know why he hasn’t said a word?” Styles says of the spy. “He don’t speak English. If he does, it’s with an accent thicker than sauerkraut sauce!”
23. Realizes the alleged “spy” is actually French. Or, as Styles puts it, “he’s a bloody frog!” This “Alex” guy is kind of an asshole.
24. Still intent on the idea that someone needs to get off the boat, gets to say quite possibly the best line of the movie. When someone tries to argue this isn’t “fair,” Styles shoots him down pretty quick. “Survival’s not fair,” Styles says. “This is the price.”
25. Says, “it’s just what it is.” He’s not wrong?
26. Almost drowns again when the tide hits and water floods the boat.
27. Tries to plug the bullet holes in the boat with his fingers. Spoiler alert: This is not enough.
28. Continues to almost drown, as the ship fills with water. Why aren’t we abandoning ship??
29. Climbs a ladder to the surface, while a less-lucky soldier drowns behind him. Survival isn’t fair.
30. Gets covered in oil somehow, but gets picked up by a civilian boat that’s ferrying soldiers back to Britain. This part is confusing, but one thing is clear: Styles still looks pretty damn handsome.
31. Proclaims someone named “George” dead. “He’s dead, mate.”
32. Covers George with a blanket. Alas, he does have a heart.
33. Makes it back to Britain! But the homecoming isn’t exactly celebratory. Styles joins the ranks of soldiers trudging along railroad tracks, still too wounded and shell-shocked from battle to react.
34. Looks angry when a British man offers him a blanket, telling him “well done.” Here, Styles clinches yet another one of the film’s best lines — “All we did is survive.” Replies the man: “that’s enough.” Styles still doesn’t take the blanket.
35. Boards a train while still complaining about the British man. “That old bloke wouldn’t even look us in the eye.” *Eye roll*
36. Sleeps peacefully on the train.
37. Sticks his head out the window and asks a group of kids to hand him a newspaper. “Run me one of them papers!”
38. Can’t bear to read said newspaper. “I can’t bear it,” Styles says, handing the newspaper to Tommy. “You read it.”
39. Ignores a man banging on the window, until he realizes the man has beer.
40. Takes a beer. Two, actually. Cheers.