Dunkirk | Christopher Nolan’s War Epic

Dunkirk (2017) : Christopher Nolan (Dir.)

When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them.

A Soldier Enters, you don’t know his name-you don’t need to- he could be anyone in the crowd. There are flyers in the air saying you are trapped. They are walking on the streets of Dunkirk, just walking around the colorful buildings.

That’s when you hear it, a loud bang on the right side of the screen. Someone has fired a shot. The Soldier shouts and starts running, he climbs a wall to enter another alleyway. His companions are dead.

Someone is still firing, the theater rocks with the bangs. The soldier makes it across a man made trench and reaches the immense Beach, Soldiers are lining up to be taken to Home across the English Channel. Black smoke emits out of Dunkirk to the sky (See Below).

That’s when the german Bombers flies in, like small dots in the sky. Everyone stares at it, trying to identify the markings on the plane. The Soldier ducks, and the noise of the bomber arrives. With the soldier ducking in he foreground with hands over his head, you can see bombs arriving.. Boom..Boom..Boom, the plane flies over head and the theater seats shakes.

That’s just a prologue of the movie. Watching Dunkirk is not just watching any movie. It’s an experience of a lifetime. It’s exhilarating, its overwhelming. The Artistic beauty lying in the movie is something to be marveled at.

Dunkirk is the 10th Feature film from Christopher Nolan and by far his best with remarkable narrative .  Based on the incident of Dunkirk Evacuation which is often termed as ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’ the movie portrays the ‘miracle of Deliverance’ with an account of three narratives coming together as a whole. When 400,000 men(Allied Soldiers from France and England) were stuck at the beaches of Dunkirk hundreds of ships were stranded and many civilian boats were brought in to rescue them all. The rescue of Dunkirk has been documented a lot of times on screen, but it was never achieved with this artistic brilliance.

The Beach of Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan has been often named as the new Generation’s Stanley Kubrick which was cemented when he directed Interstellar- which was more of an ode to Kubrick’s groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey- Dunkirk seals it in as Nolan’s version of ‘Paths of Glory’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’.

The Emotional Impact of the war is imminent in the character of Cillian Murphy, which reminds you of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory moreover the huge scale of Dunkirk’s beach scenes and use of enormous amount of extras resembles the huge set pieces of Full Metal Jacket. While there are many more movies that could be called as an inspiration for Dunkirk, Kubrick’s way of telling the story without explaining and using visual themes have been exploited thoroughly in Dunkirk by Nolan.

While Interstellar was filled with Exposition, explaining the confusing story-line in the End, Dunkirk realizes the mistake and lets the visuals do the talking. The Dialogues take a step back and visual cues are used to explain the mind-bending narrative structure of the movie.

In Memento there was the innovative use of backwards time; In Inception the time was stretched inside the Levels of Dream and in Interstellar Time was Dilated(Time Dilation) using the Gravity of Gargantua (The Black hole) . Christopher Nolan continues his flirting with Time and goes way ahead than he has ever done.

Dunkirk is told in three accounts: the first called “A Mole” follows a young English soldier Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who meets a French soldier(Damien Bonnard) and we follow them as they try to get away from the beach of Dunkirk, they eventually meet another British soldier Gibson (Harry Styles) , the title card says one week specifying that the events happening at the beach are happening in one week. The next narrative shows the battle on Sea, with a civilian boat named moonstone Driven by Mr. Dawson( Mark Rylance) traveling to Dunkirk to save soldiers, this takes place within a time span of one day and the last account takes place in the air with Spitfires (piloted by Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) flying over the English Channel fighting other planes which has a time span of one hour.

The Moonstone Driven by Mark Rylance

While the time difference in itself is challenging,  Nolan takes it further by connecting them all together and then experimenting further with narrative techniques.  He bravely skips around the time-Showing some scenes two times, once through Air, then through the sea-and provides visual prompts to understand. This is the only downfall of the War Epic, the difficult narrative structure might get a little difficult to follow for a normal moviegoers as Nolan do not serve the exposition on a platter. The movie’s practically Dialogue less approach binds the movie to its visuals. And the visuals do a great job in binding the different times together.

Around 20 minutes in, we get a sequence where Nolan uses two soldiers carrying an injured soldier on a stretcher as a narrative Device. He in a move of pure genius uses the stretcher to provide us the expense of the mole(a Structure connecting pier to the beach)  on which the ship is docked, also giving us a glimpse on the terror on the faces of soldiers, ducking from Air Planes. It in a way acts as a point of view on a battle field and brings us on the ground. In terms of Technical Aspects Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s best movie, the direction is top notched. Some scenes are so well shot that you can only wonder at how did they even make that happen. Like the sequence of the bombing at the beach, or the flying sequence. The huge IMAX cameras are used throughout the film, which increases the troubles of film-making.

In a couple of scenes filmed with IMAX cameras, Nolan goes on the ‘hand held’ camera approach. Around the end, a Spitfire(War-plane) is shown gliding through the beach with no fuel, the propellor is not working and the immense beach is present in the background. Nolan uses more cinematic techniques to

Nolan Directing Dunkirk

The IMAX gives a huge Impact to the movie, while the IMAX theater I watched the movie at is not a 70 mm Theater, but the bigger screen brings you inside the battle and the harrowing impact of Dunkirk can be felt more closely. The IMAX sound experience helps even more as the less quantity of dialogues means the movie drives on Zimmer’s background Score. And it is without a doubt Hans Zimmer’s best Score for last few years, the clock ticking gets you tense, the change of the speed of ticking as we move from the beach, to the sea and then to the land is brilliant. His score provides a support to the Visuals.

Another Surprise is the young actors, the ensemble cast has done a great job in this movie, but Harry Styles and  Fionn Whitehead deserves special mentions they gave a great performance and has shown that they can act well.

Dunkirk without showing blood on-screen provides a great war movie(Unlike Hacksaw Ridge or Saving Private Ryan), it also does not bend down to the emotions like Schindler’s list or The Pianist did too. It just shows an account of the survival of Soldiers that were stuck at Dunkirk and does that with cinematic brilliance.

This Review is part of a Series of my reviews on War movies Called War Chronicles for all other Episodes of War Chronicles Click this link.

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