As a storyteller you’re looking for a gap in the culture, you’re looking for a great story that just hasn’t been addressed. – Nolan
From the opening scene of this film, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema had me absolutely mesmerized. Almost every shot was a stunning picture. Christopher Nolan has written a film unlike anything he has done before. His trademark non-linear storytelling is still here but his treatment of this war film is with such tenderness and grace, it’s just so different from his previous works.
I personally felt that Dunkirk was so much more than just a film about survival or communal spirit. We see very clearly that there are three different goals in this film: the soldiers were to survive, the civilians were to rescue and the pilots were to defend. And sometimes these interests become conflicted. So to say Dunkirk is solely about survival isn’t enough. What joins the three perspectives we see, and what I think is really at the very heart of this film, was the theme of stoicism. It was about courage and coolness exhibited by these people despite being threatened with annihilation.
Nolan and Hoytema glides us along with the RAF Spitfires through the air, weaving us in and out of the different timelines, alternating seamlessly between hypnotic panning shots and nerve-wrecking first-person perspectives. The music by Hans Zimmer helped to convey the emotional heights and depths felt by these characters, that would have otherwise been hidden behind their stoic masks. The overall effect this film conveyed, tells us that we don’t need much dialogue, nor backstory to create characters of depth that the audience would care for. I was relieved that Nolan left out politics and violence for this film, choosing instead to focus on the emotional experience, rather than spending effort portraying the enemy troops in a negative light.
I would say Dunkirk is my most experimental structure since Memento. I tried to give the audience an experience that will wash over them. They’ll sit back and – I won’t say enjoy the ride, because this is a very intense ride – but experience the film. I never want the audience to watch the film in an overly cerebral way. It’s not meant to be a puzzle. It’s meant to be an experience. — Nolan
I hope for more films like Dunkirk, films that do not belittle their audiences by spelling everything out for them. A slight nod is all it takes to show forgiveness, a small wave enough to convey gratitude, and a mere glance could tell us that a soldier would never forgive himself for the rest of his life. No need for tears nor hysterics, and no need to intrude the minds of our characters.
Even if you aren’t a fan of war films, I still recommend making that trip to the cinema to experience Dunkirk, because this is a war film unlike any other I’ve seen before. The only film I can think of that comes close terms of style (though very slightly) is Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. Whether or not to watch it in IMAX, it really depends. I would easily choose an empty, regular cinema over a crowded IMAX theatre – the people you sit with could greatly affect your viewing experience because any small distraction could prevent you from being able to immerse yourself completely in the film’s grandeur, and you might also miss the subtle but important moments of Nolan’s Dunkirk.
The image of the thousands of helmets abandoned on the shores will continue to haunt me for some time. Although those helmets do represent soldiers who were rescued in time, somehow it still felt like these soldiers lost a part of who they were, in Dunkirk. As it was mentioned in the film, these boys will probably never be themselves again. The loss of their innocence, their shattered pride as soldiers (having to be rescued by the ones they were meant to be fighting for), made the evacuation on Dunkirk one that was harrowing, empowering and bittersweet.
More Information on Dunkirk
Duration: 106 mins
Trailer: Safe to watch (no significant spoilers, not that it really matters anyway, since we would all know the history of Dunkirk by now)
Rating: PG13 (no gore nor violence, and I can’t remember there being vulgarities at all. but please don’t bring your children to watch this, it’s not suitable because they wouldn’t understand.)
Would Rewatch: Yes
Great Movie: Yes