Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Interstellar) is internationally well-known for his complex movie plots that provoke unending questions, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat every time. Dunkirk is Nolan's first feature film based on a pivotal historical event, so will he be able to deliver his usual ambiguous and thought-provoking tactics this time round? Will this be a newfound genre for Nolan to expand and extend on his film expertise?
Before going into specifics regarding Nolan’s credentials to this film, you may or may not already know about the Battle of Dunkirk in it’s entirety (otherwise known as Operation Dynamo): During May 1940, over 300,000 troops; mostly British and French, were trapped on the beach and were surrounded by the enemy (German armed forces); thus the British fleet made sure to evacuate as many allied troops from the beach as possible since all the men were far too valuable and precious to the British and allied military. Over 800 little ships sailed into danger to aid and abet with the mass rescue, many sailors of whom were ordinary people doing their part for their nation. British Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill; recalled this event as a ‘miracle,’ hence the reason for the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ phrase spreading like wildfire among the British people, seeing as this ordeal was dealt with such bravery, grace, and fierce national spirit.
Furthermore, it seems that Nolan’s approach to this film was to go beyond the fact that this was merely an historical event, thus his reasons for delving deeper into the crucial details of the story. Rather than filling the film with a crammed backstory, heavy dialogue and unnecessary character development, Nolan delivered in terms of a collective development as opposed to an individual one.
The extreme scale of the evacuation really needed as minimal dialogue as possible, so it was great to see Nolan focusing on the pivotal event rather than adding slight gimmicks to the film; thus giving the audience a glimpse into the tragedy first hand. Nolan definitely uses his expertise to bring this film to life through sensory factors such as the following: images, sounds, the complete scope, and the pleasing yet haunting vibrations of the overall event.
The OST (original soundtrack) for the film, composed by Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Interstellar, Inception); certainly adds even more suspense, feeling, and emotion into each scene. His electrifying score is the ideal imagery and riveting recall of the historical event, at times the score was perfectly in sync with some action scenes, which made for a good viewing since each scene collided well with Zimmer’s score.
For those who are aware of Zimmer’s work, he composes rather heavy, pounding, yet heartfelt soundtracks; so it is no surprise that his one for Dunkirk was anything but that. There are a few transitions between the use of violin strings (pizzicato riffs) and the sound of guns that coincide and complement quite well with each-other. Obviously violins and guns are a strange mix but Zimmer makes it happen; it was as though he and the editors intended to mix the shouts, weapons, aircrafts, pauses, and instrumentals into the scores which gave a realistic, yet haunting persona.
Those who are familiar with Nolan’s previous films will know that he is quite the trickster and Godfather of cliffhangers, incomplete and thought-provoking endings (as seen on Inception and The Prestige); which leaves us to draw our own conclusions. With Dunkirk, he divides events in the film into three engaging segments, giving the audience an enthralling insight: the first chapter being “The Mole, One Week,” where we see commander (Kenneth Branagh) on the harbor wall where thousands of soldiers were rescued, as he is still trying to grasp the impact and depth of the foretelling disaster. The second element being “The Sea, One Day,” where we see non-military sailor (Mark Rylance) setting off from the English south coast to help rescue the troops. The third component being “The Air, One Hour,” where we see Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot (Tom Hardy) partake in a dogfight with the German military fighter aircraft, known as the Messerschmitt, along with newcomer in the movie realm and One Direction singer Harry Styles being one of the beach soldiers. All of which will sometimes cause a string of confusion among the viewer, since the limited dialogue and continuous change of scenes gets a little tricky to decipher what is going on; but maybe that’s exactly how Nolan intended to portray the film- seeing as this would outline the authentic chaos and trauma of the actual event.
Overall, Nolan did an exceptional job in giving more than just an informative war film, he took hold of the tragedy and gave it more life than anyone could imagine. He not only acknowledged the glory of this event, but he highlighted the survival element throughout the film; which gave the viewer a larger understanding towards Dunkirk as though we were there ourselves. I applaud the team that put together an astounding war film that will certainly be remembered for many years to come. Despite this being Nolan’s first historical based film, it is safe to say that this may be his best work yet.
D U N K I R K
In theatres July 19