Appreciating Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk

Image retrieved from IMDb

SPOILER ALERT for Dunkirk. Even though it’s based off real events, there are some fictional characters in it. So proceed at your own risk.

Dunkirk (2017)

When I re-watched this movie in the context of all the other Christopher Nolan movies, I thought of the quote from The Dark Knight Rises where Bruce says, “Now you’re just showing off.” We already knew that Nolan was a master at playing with time and plot structures in movies. But in Dunkirk, he takes a story that most filmmakers would show in a very simple – but still compelling – way, but is able to present it in a very unique manner. To tell three different stories that take place over three different amounts of time while still having them relate and intersect by the end is an impressive feat to say the least.

The first time I watched this movie, I didn’t get it. Its structure was just too confusing. And I think that’s the biggest (and possibly only) knock on it. But as with just about every Nolan film, it gets better with subsequent viewings since you’re able to understand it that much more.

Like I said in the beginning, this had the ability to be a straightforward plot because of the fact that it’s a true story. Nolan could have made a whole movie out of just one of the three storylines, but the way he chooses to do it is so much more compelling. And a historical film is so different than anything he’s done before.

Even though this isn’t a fictional story like Inception or Interstellar, it’s still very much a spectacle to behold. The locations alone allow for there to be breathtaking visuals. There are amazing shots on the beach, in the air, and at sea.

The below shot is my favorite from the movie.

Image retrieved from IMDb

This is right as enemy bombers are flying overhead. It all starts with this one soldier noticing what’s coming. And then they all get down. The shot perfectly demonstrates what’s happening in the entire movie and how desperate this army is. It seems like this line of soldiers just goes on forever and it brings this sense of hopelessness and continues the tension that is present the entire way through (watch the full scene here).

What’s most impressive about Dunkirk is that there is not one wasted minute. There’s no unnecessary backstory or subplots that many other movies fall prey to. Everything that is in the movie needs to be there. This adds so much suspense and tension, especially, to just about the entire movie. When watching a Nolan movie, you expect it to be long – at least two and a half hours. But Dunkirk comes in under two hours long. It shows how dedicated he is to not wasting any time.

Much of the tension is created through the lack of dialogue. Until Harry Styles’ (who gives a great performance!) character shows up, there is little to no dialogue during many of the beach scenes. So as a viewer, you’re hanging on to every action because of its importance. There are 400,000 men on this beach, so watching what they do as they try to survive is gripping.

What makes Dunkirk stand out as a Christopher Nolan movie isn’t the focus on a main male character, for once. It’s the way that he presents the plot. He’s taking on a new genre, but is still able to bring something completely original. The way it is presented is what makes Dunkirk able to stand out from other war movies and be known as one of the greatest ever made.

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