Whenever a new Christopher Nolan film rolls into theaters, it isn’t a surprise that both media and fans alike immediately jump on the lauding-wagon and repeatedly praise the Oscar-winning director. After all, aside from the obvious ‘Oscar-winning director’ comment I just made, Nolan continuously introduces both new ideas and experimental film concepts to the film industry. Dunkirk, although different from Nolan’s previous films, is not excluded from being a fantastic film.
Dunkirk takes place in WW2 during the event in which after Germany advances into France, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were forced to retreat to the seaside town of Dunkirk. However, as the perimeter shrunk and German forces closed in, the soldiers could do nothing but await evacuation in a seemingly hopeless situation. Nolan’s narrative follows three interwoven perspectives of multiple characters that create a non-linear narrative: one on land, one on sea, and one in the air. Having said that, Nolan doesn’t rely on his film’s storyline to carry it to success, but rather its use of cinematography (Hoyte van Hoytema), sound (Richard King), and music (Hans Zimmer)—creating a gloriously beautiful war film.
“The tide’s turning now” “How do you know?” “The bodies are coming back.”
The first explanation as to how Nolan allows Dunkirk to be successful is through Hoytema’s use of perspective. The use of perspective is especially eye-catching in this movie because Hoytema uses a technique in which he inputs both the factors of character and breathtaking panoramic views to allow the audience to empathize with the characters unknown possibility of survival in the war. One example includes many of the dogfights in the air. Rather than depicting such fights from entirely distant
shots, Hoytema instead captures the scene alongside one of the plane’s wings–revealing the plane behind it gaining an advantage, and thus steadily creating a perilous emotional climax. Furthermore, the image of a single moving dot against the vast panoramic stretch of the majestic sky aids to the audience’s established hopelessness because it allows the audience to empathize with the character in which he knows himself to be little and insignificant in comparison to both the world and this war. Another example that particularly stood out to me were the close-up shots of explosions and impending attacks alike. In these scenes, Hoytema focuses his shots on slowly approaching attacks from various character perspectives to emotions of both fear and jeopardy, and to imitate the horrifying war experience in which one cannot do anything about these attacks but pitifully attempt to take cover. This along with the music adds adrenaline to the scene and causes —the viewer’s heartbeat rate to increase exponentially with no control over it.
“Seeing home doesn’t help us get there, Captain.”
Moving on to the next point, Nolan additionally combines his efforts with that of King and Zimmer in the sound and music department to further strengthen the emotional impact of his hair-raising action scenes. In regards to the sound, King amplifies and emphasizes the sounds of all things war—explosions, bangs, thuds, gun shots, jet engines, etc.—to the point of where it unsettles the viewer, places them on edge, and even urges them to want to literally clasp their hands over their ears hoping to stop the blood that is about to
be spilled. The humming of an approaching fighter jet, for example, reverberates throughout the viewer’s body and leaves them with rising chill that only floods open once its impacts hits our characters. And such sound smoothly entwines itself with the music that Zimmer. Along with Nolan, Zimmer also tries something experimental in Dunkirk in which he composes music that follows both the pattern of the approaching peril of sound and one’s rapidly increasing heartbeat in response to these events. This causes the viewer to empathize with the soldiers’ ever-increasing adrenaline, panic, and tension before and during an attack that leaves one feeling claustrophobic, suffocated, and trapped whilst fighting for survival. Fascinating, bizarre, and scary is what I’d like to call it along with the use of color used to enhance such senses.
“Where’s the bloody airforce?”
I’ll make this a brief point considering the use of color is evident in many of today’s films, so it isn’t a very unique factor to mention. Anyways: everything in this film is down to detail, including the various shades of hues used to heighten the emotion of a scene. In Dunkirk, we have alternating, (main) shades of dark and grey hues to increase the intensity of a scene, shades of yellow to illustrate the potential of either a better current situation or the potential of a brighter future, and cool blues to relax the viewer whilst slightly maintaining their constructed paranoia. But then again, the cast of actors also have to contribute to that.
“How hard is it to find a dead Englishman on Dunkirk beach, for God’s sake?”
In Dunkirk, character names are almost non-existent—meaning some characters simply weren’t given names or their names were only mentioned once, so it was fairly easy to lose track of what their names were. Nevertheless, the cast of actors made up for it in which each actor played a memorable role that distinguished one character from another. The cast of actors ranges from well-known names to unknown names. Such actors include Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, etc. All of them are just *pouts lips with a thumbs-up* in bringing to life the emotion that inflicts Nolan’s viewers. Let’s just hope that this film is enough to bring those unknowns more film roles!
Dunkirk captures the sound, sights, and ultimately the spirit of the Dunkirk historical
event. Sure, the film may emphasize its visual aspects more than its story. But the experimental film is ultimately one that succeeds in its mission of eliciting tenseness, panic, and jeopardy from its audience. Go see it!
Genre: Action; Drama; Thriller
Running Time: 2 hours