It is not often that we review movies on BlogtorWho but Christopher Nolan’s powerful telling of the Dunkirk tale demands attention. The movie is simply extraordinary. The evacuation of mainland Europe in 1940 was an incredible achievement. In the world of cinema ‘Dunkirk’ is an equally spectacular triumph.
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan, the man who brought us the mind bending masterpiece ‘Inception’, ‘Dunkirk’ sees another clever use of varying passages of time. Broadly into divided into three loose strands, land, sea and air, events pass simultaneously over one week, one day and one hour. Although an abstract concept in principle at no point does the viewer fail to follow the narrative. It doesn’t patronise the viewer with laborious scenes of exposition either. Actually, the dialogue is fairly minimal. Nolan’s film proves that the best way to tell a story on screen, be that big or small, is to show and not tell. The scene is set with some simple text and the visual of the Nazi propaganda leaflet dropped on the Allied troops. In fact the enemy is not named. Instead they are not personified but their encroaching presence is effective through implication alone.
Incredible Visuals and Sound Design
Supporting Nolan’s direction is Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography which is utterly breathtaking. The moments which linger with the viewer the longest are simple shots. A single soldier walking helplessly into the sea. Kenneth Branagh looking out for the English shoreline over the horizon or his reaction to the civilian boats approaching Dunkirk. Tom Hardy’s face hidden by an oxygen mask leaving his left eye alone to act with. They are all powerful moments. I was fortunate enough to watch it on an enormous IMAX screen and can highly recommend the experience. Equally contributory to the immersive nature of the experience is the sound design. The powerful speakers in the cinema also created powerful vibrations. When bombs were dropping for instance, you could feel the shudders, engrossing you into the action further. An impressive sound system is also a must to fully appreciate the incredible music that permeates throughout.
Hans Zimmer has created an outstanding score that accentuates the constant tension. Amazing to think that such a skilled composer also contributed to the horrific ‘Doctor in Distress’ charity record in 1985! The music of ‘Dunkirk’ ticks along, building the tension from the outset. But impressively there is no crescendo. That ticking tension and suspense continues throughout the events. Nolan was keen to use something called the Shepard Tone, an auditory illusion which tricks the brain into thinking that there is a constant ascending tone. This device helps contribute to a visceral experience that left this particular viewer completly drained.
Telling the story of ‘Dunkirk’ on film is not an easy task. There are multiple ways of approaching it. Reflecting the scale of the evacuation requires a big Hollywood budget. However it is also an initimate story about individuals desperate to live. Yet it is not overly sentimental. There are no moments of soldiers clutching a photo of a loved one at home. Somehow Nolan has skillfully managed to achieve both scale and intimacy in the same movie. Equally there is an avoidance of graphic violence, proving that a harrowing experience can be achieved without descending to the level of blood and gore. The story of ‘Dunkirk’ is powerful enough without employing such devices.