Straight up no chase, Christopher Nolan served us a war film with no heroes, no cliches, no emotional tales just ground-shaking battle scenes and stone-cold water on Dunkirk beach. In just a 106 minute long film about one of the most renowned military evacuation in modern history; you are expected to relive the most intense event just as the 400,000 soldiers once did on the beach.
Nolan captured the essence of Dunkirk, truly the essence of any war event, the cruelty. The cruelty of Dunkirk also reflects in the excellent pacing of the film, the silence of the soldiers whose fate was hanging by a thread. Soldiers die like ants on the beach, in the water, halfway across the ditch. Churchill wants his men back for future plans, all of them matter, but no individual matters. There is no emotion on the big screen, but there is all kinds of emotions when we are watching.
Several storylines intertwined to recreate a multi-dimensional experience of Dunkirk Evacuation, like a subtle inception throwback, if you will. At the climax, you will realise the interconnectedness of events, causes and consequences, the beginning and the end. Nolan pulls off having a few storylines run in parallel and develop them at the same time without interfering or outstaying one or another. Such a plot design reveals the true colour of Nolan – a master of manipulation, story pacing, and full of surprises.
Unlike Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge, Fury, or any other war films, we do not see the development of any individual characters, and the story itself is also less emotion-centred. Dunkirk is told through different perspectives of several groups of people, less focus on individuals, more focus on the scale of the situations. As a result, the audience is less distracted by any individual character they might attach themselves to emotionally, thus becoming more invested in the actual historical event. Even though, the brilliant cast delivers story after story, emotion layered with emotion with simple body language and facial expressions. The tension starts building in the first few scenes and only gets more and more intense until the very end. The desperation to survive, to go home, to fight the enemy, to leave the beach is brewed to a boiling point that leaves everyone on edge throughout the film.
Miracle, a word pops up here and there several times during the film. Nolan intended his version of Dunkirk to be saved by a man-made miracle, not individual heroism. Everything he has been building up since the very beginning eventually leads to the miracle. While making the battle scenes as brutal and realistic as they are, Nolan kept the minimum touch consistent through and through, from the few conversations between characters when necessary to the big-scale fighting and bombing scenes. The horror and cruelty intensify through the minimal aesthetics, and there is also no blood or gore as in Hacksaw Ridge or Saving Private Ryan. Haunted by the realistic images of survival in desperation, Nolan brings the audience the most dazzling sets in the grimmest way possible. Scanning across the wide shots of vast sea, empty beach with long queues of soldiers and the infinite sky of possible danger above their heads, hope is close to non-existent, indeed, they are in need of a miracle. In Nolan’s vision, humans are fragile mortal beings, war is ear-drum blasting weapons and machines, what indeed saved the soldiers is a miracle, relying on the miracle rather than a complex individual development also make this massive-scale war film a real wonder.
*Tom Hardy didn’t showcase his Bane groan, but he did sexy-murmur behind a mask. Harry Styles’s face would ease the anxiety because we cracked up for no reason when I first spotted him. He did not disappoint, but he isn’t great, he probably had most lines comparing to others but he did not shine among the brilliancy of others. Fionn Whitehead on the other hand will have a long career road ahead of him.
Catch the film now receiving high ratings, Dunkirk, out in cinemas July 20th.