Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Fionn Whitehead
Is Dunkirk Overrated or Actually Good?
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and perhaps one of the biggest war movies of the decade, but it certainly managed to live up to the hype. On paper, following films such as Batman and Interstellar, Dunkirk seems like a far more traditional film, documenting the historical events of the World War II evacuation.
Nolan’s film certainly doesn’t fit into the mould of a tired war epic however, discarding character backstory or even significant development, removing all political backdrop and heroic action, and instead follows intense snapshots of the desperate struggle to survive of a range of individuals in the air, on the sea and on the land.
It is true it is an action film of sorts, but rather than intense fighting, Dunkirk creates an oppressive feeling of despair and trappedness. We don’t even ever really see the enemy, it is instead through the unexpected bombs and torpedoes and the knowledge of the surrounding army that instead forces the soldiers to desperately fight against the short distance of sea that separated them from home.
Unlike the many films that have defined the genre, in the midsts of the bombings and chaos Nolan doesn’t quite create moments of immense bravery, but instead focuses on poignant acts of kindness to other humans driven by innate human sense of pity and empathy, from the Peter sparing the shell shocked soldier the news that he has killed his friend George, or Tommy going back and opening the door on the sinking ship.
Unique, gripping and beautiful, Dunkirk is a spectacular achievement.
"What has happened is a colossal military disaster.
We shall go on to the end.
We shall never surrender"
Is Dunkirk a Realistic and Historically Accurate True Story?
Dunkirk is very much rooted in historical events. Following being pushed back to the sea in 1940, the Allied forces evacuated the North of France from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk between 26th May and 4th June. Over 800 hastily assembled ships were used to evacuate over 300,000 soldiers.
Despite none of the characters in Dunkirk being real people, they are a composite of historical accounts and interviews conducted by Nolan and his team. Moments such as the despairing soldier walking aimlessly into the sea were seen by survivors and recounted to Nolan. The men, women and boys of the Little Boats, as they became to be known, are also real examples of a range of civilians who sailed to Dunkirk.
There are undoubtedly sections that have been changed or exaggerated for drama or convenience. The Navy was actually fairly continuously loading from the Mole and didn’t really have to battle tides, with the Little Ships playing a far smaller role only evacuating about 5% of the total number. The drama came more from the backlog of ships waiting to moor to the mole.
Within the film itself Nolan has tried to capture a sense of realism by using as little CGI as possible. Instead over six thousand extras and around sixty ships and a range of planes were used during the shoot. This included a range of ex French and Netherlands navy ships, as well as twelve of the actual Little Ships used to evacuate. This all combines to make an incredibly visceral portrayal rooted in the true stories of Dunkirk, despite it not fully accurately being able to represent the problems faced by the larger ships.
Is Harry Styles Any Good in Dunkirk?
One of the biggest stories around the movie Dunkirk has been that it marks the acting debut of pop superstar and One Direction member Harry Styles. For die-hard Nolan fans this casting initially feels quite uncomfortable as an intense World War II film is not quite a traditional star vehicle and audiences of screaming 1D fans that this might except to draw in is perhaps not the typical audience you would expect for the film. That said, it certainly helped to further raise the profile of the film and I’m sure also some funding too.
Nolan uses Harry Styles very well in the film and for those who do not know who he is, he would likely not stand out at all, neither for his acting quality or the director’s want to shine a light on him. He blends easily into the midsts of the frightened and scared young soldiers and is not given any more prominence than any other actors. That said it is a small role and you can hardly judge his acting chops by it. Most of the film is driven by the action and chaos and he has very little dialogue. Still, he holds his own and does more than anyone could have expected.
Should I See Dunkirk in 70mm, 30mm or IMAX formats? What is the Difference?
It has long been known the Christopher Nolan is a traditionalist who loves shooting on film. He is in the ever decreasing group of directors doing this though, with many camera and film companies like Kodak and Fuji announcing that they are stopping producing many of their film based products.
The whole of Dunkirk was shot on 70mm and IMAX film with 75% of the final movie being shot on IMAX cameras. This was done to great effort and expense, both due to the nature of needing reels of film and also the heavy and loud IMAX cameras being problematic for many scenes. It is clearly important to Nolan, so what is the difference?
Firstly, you effectively get a higher resolution. Standard digital film packages are 2K or 4K resolution, while 35mm is around 6K and 70mm is around 12K and IMAX 70mm is around 18K. The other main difference is the aspect ratio, with regular film and digital projection being a more standard widescreen format, while IMAX can go to the far more squarer 1.43:1 format, giving a far taller and more encompassing screen.
If you are a videophile than seeking out the 70mm IMAX is a must, however for most this will be both hard to come by and expensive. For your average moviegoer, the standard digital projection most modern cinemas have will still give you an incredible cinematic experience.
What is the Timeline of the Plot of Dunkirk?
As the movie starts we are given three title cards - ‘The Mole - One Week’ (the stone pier-like part of the soldiers on the beach depart from), ‘The Sea - One Day’ (following the Mr Dawson’s boat coming from Britain) and ‘The Air - One Hour’ following a squadron of RAF pilots. Although not at first obvious, the time frames given are the length of which we are going to track these stories, with the beached soldiers being stuck there for many days, the boats leaving early in the morning and returning late at night, and the pilots short flight to Dunkirk limited by their fuel.
These timelines, although generally acting chronologically within their own sections, are not linear compare to each other, with Nolan crossing between the shorter and longer timelines. This means the viewer often sees the action from the air before we see it from the boat or beach.
We are shown Collins ditch it to the sea twice, first from Farrier’s point of view as he sees him waving, and later from Mr Dawson’s view as he rushes to save him scrabbling to get out of his cockpit before it drowns. We also see the shell shocked soldier as he’s rescued from the wreckage, as well as him on the boat before it is torpedoed. This unique technique not only adds to the feeling of the multi layered evacuation effort and also adds to the feeling of chaos, but also beautifully gives significantly different perspectives on events.
"You can practically see it from here."
Is Dunkirk Violent and is it Suitable for Children?
Dunkirk received a 12A certificate in the UK and a PG-13 rating in the USA. This is surprising when you think of the film and compare it to previous war movies of this scale. Despite this, there is limited actual violence in Dunkirk. We never see the German Army and subsequently any combat is long distance shooting and bombing. This avoids the more intense hand to hand violence and visceral scenes of soldiers being shot.
Despite this, it is still an incredibly intense film. There may not be traditional violence but the struggle for survival is often perhaps harder to deal with. This is only intensified in a cinema setting with the bludgeoning soundtrack and encompassing screen. It is still a powerful and important film though and mature younger viewers should be able to cope but it is best for parents to use their discretion, or perhaps wait for the home entertainment release where they can enjoy it in a more relaxed environment.
What is the Dunkirk Soundtrack Like?
When you come out of Dunkirk one of the most noticeable things about the film is the soundtrack. Composed by previous Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer, the soundtrack often takes centre stage in a film with little dialogue, slowly building the drama throughout.
A recurring motif is the incessant ticking of watch, which Zimmer actually recorded from one of Nolan’s own, helping to build the sense of panic and urgency to escape the beach before the inevitable. A Shepard Tone regularly also features, an illusion where overlapping tones cause the illusion that the pitch is always getting higher while it still stays in the same range.
Add to this the cross between beautiful and tranquil string sections and the loud, bludgeoning full force of Zimmer's orchestra and then you have a soundtrack which is truly integral to the film. Some may feel that it is slightly too on the nose, shirking creating real drama by instead sonically shocking your eardrums, but in a film like this where the real fear is of the unseen enemy, the soundtrack brilliantly evokes what cannot be seen on the screen.
"You're weekend sailors,
not the bloody navy"
What Happens in Dunkirk’s Ending Explained
By the end Alex and Tommy make it to Mr Dawson’s boat, where the pilot Collins and the shell shocked soldier already are, and the group sail back to England. The soldiers are welcomed back, despite being fearful of the shame, while Peter makes sure the dead boy George is celebrated in the local papers. All the living British soldiers have been evacuated, but Commander Bolton decides to stay to oversee the evacuation of French troops.
The remaining pilot Farrier (played by Tom Hardy) heads to Dunkirk despite having little fuel left and manages to shoot down an enemy bomber, saving a ship and the troops evacuating on it. Out of fuel, he glides over the beach, just pulling down his landing gear in time to safely land, before setting fire to his plane in order to keep it out of enemy hands as they take him prisoner.