Article By: Alice-Ginevra Micheli
Finally the awaited and anticipated film by prolific director Christopher Nolan has arrived, promising action, excitement and a thrill ride that may very well stop your heart. However, after all this, was it worth waiting for?
The answer is YES.
The tenth film by Nolan, Dunkirk tells the story of the famous WWII event where 400,000 British soldiers found themselves trapped by enemy forces as they tried to make their way home.
I’ll begin with the direction itself, as that is the big draw for any Nolan picture. In a stunning feat, he has managed to not only create an exciting portrayal of war and desperation, but has also made it one of the single most immersive cinema experiences this reviewer has ever had. Everything, from the music, to the cinematography to the story works together, allowing you to get as close as possible to not only sympathizing but also empathizing with the people on screen. They create a survival story that works on three levels, inviting the audience to get an understanding as to how this real life event played out on land, in the sea and through the air.
The score plays to this magnificently, as every beat, and every tick of an ever-present clock is utilized to both prepare the audience for its scenes of high tension as well as to translate the constant mood of terror. Composer Hans Zimmer delves into tones and riffs reminiscent of his previous work, then tweak them so it’s never quite clear where the score begins and the environmental sounds end.
However, there is something to be said about the lack of character personification. It’s clear while watching that Nolan wasn’t interested in delivering a personal drama connecting the person on the screen with the person in the cinema. His focus was on the historical moment itself, wanting to encapsulate its epic by using the humans as pawns for the story, rather than the driving force. Unlike previous war films, there is no back-story mentioned for any characters, and some of the protagonists don’t even get a name. While this was purposeful it has also created a rift between screen and audience that could result in some walking out disappointed and disconnected, feeling that they’ve witnessed a historical re-enactment rather than having just seen a feature film.
It’s also a very silent film with the dialogue often being either non-existent or mostly muted as a result of the monstrous sounds from various machinery and explosions. Again, this is clearly intentional but could easily lead to frustration for those who want to have more of an understanding as to how this event came to be and why.
What’s important to note is that this isn’t a traditional film. At 106 minutes, it’s essentially one long action scene with points of context and history peppered throughout. It was not made to educate or to connect through a narrative manner, as most films do, but to communicate on a basic human level what it means to survive an ordeal as brutal as war.
This is a tense portrayal of the reality of battle and the constant terror of escape. From minute one the audience is thrown into the action, without opportunity for breath until the final credits start to roll. It’s a spectacle of history and a feat of filmmaking that entranced and delivered, even if it did lead me to having a small nervous breakdown due to it’s emotional and psychological intensity.
Dunkirk is an amazing award-worthy film, full of masterful feats, impressive acting and breathtaking action pieces, but not suitable for those looking for a traditional movie viewing experience, or for that matter, anyone who can’t handle their heart stopping on more than one occasion. However, this is undoubtedly a cinema experience that will not be matched for a long time to come.