Dunkirk, by Christopher Nolan, isn’t like anything filmed in recent memory, and that is its greatest achievement and downfall.
To appreciate Dunkirk is to understand the how and why of its making along with the actual events that took place during the monumental event. Without this, it wouldn’t be a farfetched thing for you not to enjoy the film.
The film aimed to be a faithful recreation of the Dunkirk evacuation and it succeeded enormously, all gloriously captured on IMAX (seriously, watch it on IMAX). It’s easily the most realistically depicted war movie ever. The scenes involving the WW2 Spitfire planes are gorgeous and unyielding; a true-to-life recreation of what it was must’ve been like to be in a WW2 dogfight. You’ll dodge and cringe everytime the planes get shot; the sound design is really tremendous. Crowning the entire Nolan film, as always, is Hans Zimmer’s intense score as both pulled their years of collaborating to craft an audio and visual experience based on the auditory illusion called the Shepard Tone—Google it if you love Nolan’s work. Trust me. Mad stuff.
As mentioned at the beginning, the film’s grand achievement can be is its downfall.
Nolan in many of his interviews stated that the film is based on his research and interviews with actual survivors of Dunkirk. And because of this, the lack of character development has come under scrutiny by many. Thing is, being a soldier during Dunkirk wasn’t about the who and why, it was simply about surviving, which is what Nolan wanted to show.
Not only that, there isn’t an ultimate villain for the heroes to face. Explosions and gunfire are next to none, reenacting the accounts of actual survivors. So much so that the enemy is never seen, which is again what it was truly like to be in Dunkirk during the evacuation. Some even questioned the lack of conflict between armies, but this is what really happened; the Germans simply didn’t attack the retreating Allies for whatever reason.
The problem here is the marketing. Dunkirk was given an image of a Hollywood war movie, not an accurate survival movie. Many entered the show expecting boom and pows but only got an almost silent film. Warner Bros probably thought Nolan’s name alone was enough to draw in the crowd, and they’re probably right about that but man… expectations weren’t set at all.
But if you knew what you were getting into, HOLY NOLANVERSE is Dunkirk a maddening ride.
I truly am grateful to be alive during Nolan’s career as a filmmaker. His passion for the magic of the big screen. The ideas his brother and him come up with. Hans Zimmer’s godlike scores for them. We are blessed.
I’ll leave Dunkirk’s main theme here for you to imagine how intense dire things got during the evacuation.