The topic of the Second World War has been depicted mainly in two ways so far, which can be represented by Steven Spielberg’s exactness and the poetic parlance of Terrence Malick; other films flicker in between these two directors’ styles. Christopher Nolan, meanwhile, with his new production – Dunkirk – took a different approach to the aspect of war. Yes, Dunkirk is a war film with dynamic rescue and spitfire operations, but they all serve merely as a background; Nolan’s production is a story about what a man can do to survive the war and to ensure the survival of others.
There is no time to rest while watching Dunkirk. The film, from the first scene, throws the audience into the middle of the action and does not let go until the very end. The action does not need any words to justify what is happening on the big screen; there are no dialogues at first, and when they appear, there are very limited – pictures and action say more than words in Dunkirk. There are no talks about patriotism or fighting. The film copes well even without drafting biographies of the individual soldiers, including in the one of the initial scenes of the film, where the two main characters – Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) and Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) – meet without saying a single word, and not a one sentence is needed as the audience perfectly understands what is happening in that particular moment; both actors’ performances are great. In Nolan’s film, there are no heroes in the traditional cinematic sense. The audience follows the action from the perspective of specific characters throughout the film, but this is not their story.
Dunkirk is made into three separate stories, each with its own pace, but connected with each other in certain ways and that is the greatest value of this narrative. Nolan chose to do it really well, creating a three-layer work, each story attempting to also adapt to the tension that accompanies the various aspects of action in the film – I absolutely loved it.
First we meet Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a young British soldier who is trying to escape the hell that has become the French coast, and who shows incredible determination and willpower to survive. The second story is the one of Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan), a young and eager teenager, who, after the King’s call to retrieve soldiers from Dunkirk’s beaches, take a small recreation boat and leave for Dunkirk. The three of them have different reasons for why they are trying to help: to Sam Dawson, it is a sense of duty, to Peter, it is to show loyalty, and to George, it is to prove his worth of himself and others. The third story depicts the fate of two British pilots, Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden). At this point, Nolan introduces another point of view, the previous soldiers’ desperation, with the sense of duty and honour replaced by sacrifice, devotion and professionalism.
Christopher Nolan’s script-writing with the authenticity of the WWII intensifies the visual aspects of the film. The action is extremely realistic and completely devoid of artistry; there are but a few explosions or fireballs. The spitfires smoke out of the engines and just fall to drown in the sea – it is very well shot. Also, battle-ships and small boats do not fall apart; they crumble like big trees and disappear under the waves of the sea. People die fast, quietly and without ostentation.
The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is superb. When needed, he delivered a climate of loneliness and closure, to show the emptiness and hopelessness on the road, without sparing us with the glorious panoramas of beach, sea and sky. Hoyte did a splendid job. Hans Zimmer’s music perfectly captures the mood and deepens the reception of the film – no surprise here, as he is a genius when it comes to composing music scores that really fit the given films. Every single actor involved in this film delivered well, including the stellar main cast – even One Direction’s Harry Styles.
Undoubtedly, Nolan surpassed his previous works with Dunkirk; it is an extraordinary story about extraordinary people. Dunkirk might be the best Nolan’s film to date, but it might still face competition for the best of 2017. Even so, there has already been a lot of Oscar talk; does the film deserve it? It surely does, for its narrative, cinematography and music.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Warner Bros. Pictures