“All we did is survive.”
Dunkirk is the latest film by one of the greatest directors of the 21st Century, Christopher Nolan. One of the most unique war films, Dunkirk is a film that not only manages to tell an epic, large scale story in under 2 hours, but unusually intertwine multiple narratives in a nonlinear style to heighten the tension, each story strong in its own right and equally riveting, filled with so little exposition yet telling the audience so much, stories filled with heart and humanity, and not power.
In a genre of films capturing heroism, focusing on assault, bravery in the face of evil, we have a film that focuses on retreat, illustrating how war affects every level, from confused, shellshocked soldiers, to civilians with pipe dreams of patriotism, to generals torn between tough decisions. The film is both large-scale in terms of spectacle and scope, once again exemplifying Nolan’s flair for practical effects, not only in terms of set building, but with his understanding of Gestalt, showing us the sheer scope of the war, even without explicitly showing battle. Additionally, the stylistic choice of never showing the audience the enemy greatly not only humanises the protagonists, but dehumanises the enemy without seemingly overtly patriotic. The marketing decision of giving the film a PG-13 rating ended up actually benefitting the film instead of harming its artistic integrity, with Nolan still managing to tell a gritty and realistic war film despite the limitations and showing literally not a single death on screen, yet implying the loss of thousands.
As with any other war film, the film on a technical level is jaw-dropping, especially when it comes to the sound design, which captures the level of disorientation, the cacophony experienced by the shellshocked, increasing the level of suspense and empathy for the characters, the score is also phenomenal, with a constant ticking noise and the illusion of a perpetually ascending tone, which all greatly contribute to the claustrophobia and intensity of the film, and when the silence hits us towards the end, it is as poignant as the first, deafening gunshot of the film, it jolts us up, it asks not only the soldiers, but us, “What now?”.
It’s honestly refreshing to see Nolan return to his experimental storytelling roots from Memento in this film, doing away with his exposition-riddled dialogue in his later films, yet being coherent and poignant enough for even the simplest-minded of people to enjoy in all its glory. Dunkirk is a film which actually lives up to the hype and the title of “masterpiece”.
By: Zach Wee