Bombs drop. Ships sink. People drown. In war, all of our finely conceived ideas of purpose and reason seem to fall apart, if only due to terror.
It is from these elements of disaster that Dunkirk, the latest film by Christopher Nolan, is built.
The result is a masterpiece.
And yes, there are SPOILERS ahead.
Three perspectives, one narrative
From the beginning, the film makes it clear that there are three perspectives being shown: land, sea and air.
It is through these three perspectives that Dunkirk manages to retain Nolan’s classic non-linear storytelling elements. The show cuts from perspective to perspective as if they happen sequentially, except that they don’t. The battle on land is a week-long ordeal. At sea, only the last day of the battle is shown. In the air, it’s a single hour.
But while the perspectives are initially out of sync, as the show continues, they begin to synchronize. As a result, scenes that initially seemed lacking are completed, as more perspectives are added to them, giving a fuller picture. These realisations on the viewer’s part create a great deal of tension, and a gripping narrative.
The sound of silence
In a film world filled with punchy dialogue, witty comebacks, and extraneous
words sentences paragraphs, Dunkirk‘s reticence stands out.
This enhanced the film’s realism. Most people aren’t as verbose or chatty as movies portray, and in real life, a lot can be communicated through silence as well.
In the same way, the film relied on long glances, hard stares, and well-cut action scenes rather than dialogue to convey emotion to its audience, and the actors played their parts magnificently.
To me, there was one question that seemed to be asked repeatedly in every character’s story: how do you continue, even when life doesn’t make sense, or when life seems to be against you?
Obviously, many characters had to ask themselves that question. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), the civilian boatman, faced that question when George, while trying to help the evacuees, was senselessly killed by one of them. Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), the main character, faced the question repeatedly, as almost every ship he boarded was destroyed and more and more people died. Farrier (Tom Hardy), the pilot, faced it when he ran out of fuel, stranded above the beach at Dunkirk.
But in every situation, instead of giving up and turning around, like Cillian Murphy’s character wanted, they pressed on, and in the end, each of them managed to accomplish their goals. Mr. Dawson saved a great number of soldiers. Tommy got home. And Farrier finished his mission.
Through the entire story, that same idea resonates. The entire retreat is a huge defeat for the British, and yet, they continue fighting, and, even though their leaders doubted the chance of even 30,000 being rescued, they managed to rescue over 300,000.
If they hadn’t forged on, the story—and indeed, seeing that the Dunkirk evacuation was historical—the world might be a very different place.
Christopher Nolan’s work has always impressed me, and Dunkirk is no different. His ability to turn even a war epic into a deeply thoughful film is marvellous, and his skill in playing with time such that even the sequencing of shots tells larger story puts his storytelling abilities above many others.
With that, I think the show deserves a 10/10.
What other thoughts do you have about Dunkirk?