Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan wants you to trade linearity for the horrors of war

Posted on 21 July, 2017 by Team Wishberry

You can almost see it from here — home...

This epic doesn’t rely on gore and blood — it is the working of a mind that can truly fathom the horrors that war rains on people­.

Christopher Nolan. There is not much that is left to say about the man and his filmmaking. We have been in awe with his visuals for quite sometime now and with Dunkirk, he has managed to scale new heights.

Set against the backdrop of World War II and in the year 1940, Dunkirk details the tale of rescue of Allied Forces (British, French and Belgian) from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk in France, after German forces managed to trap them there. As 400,000 soldiers wailed on the shores of Dunkirk, like sitting ducks for German forces, little pleasure yachts and fishing boats from the shores of Britain sailed towards it, traversing The English Channel, to ferry the ‘boys home’.

 Historically, Dunkirk was a weeklong rescue operation. Nolan takes 1 Hour and 46 Minutes to show his viewers what it meant then, and the lessons we should take away from it.

Overlapping narratives have been a forte of Nolan and one would believe that he likes to set traps for his audience — it is not easy to watch his films. So, right at the outset, you are given the three most important points in the film. This is a film that will show you a rescue operation conducted on land, in sea and in the air. Dunkirk’s beach is the stage and Nolan has set it with expansive visual of soldiers hoping to survive.

Post that, he unleashes the giant — a linear narrative is slyly forsaken. The timeline of the rescue is forsaken for a grand narrative that talks about the ravages of war, the burdens that ‘nations’ thrust upon young men who take up arms to defend ‘her’ honour. It points to the helplessness of generals and commanders who see their armies languishing hopelessly because their fate is being sealed by men in coats who know nothing about the travesty of the war on the ground. And it talks of the greatness of those in uniform, willing to risk it all, in order to save their fellow men.

The question Nolan poses here is a simple one: Who is the real hero of a war?

 Dunkirk is a lesson in filmmaking — especially sound design

Hans Zimmer is a genius and he delivers with Dunkirk. The music of the film will haunt you and is forcefully reminiscent of the foreboding, dark theme of The Dark Knight. And when this music rhythmically entangles itself with the sound of the film, the sound of war, you get an immersive experience. The bombs are not far away, ladies and gents — they are going off right next to you, at times on you. All of this is beautifully tied down by the cinematography and Nolan’s penchant for using IMAX cameras. Here’s a little ‘trivia’ on the IMAX camera:

An IMAX camera weighs around 109 kgs, so it requires special supports and rigging to move it around. A typical 35-mm movie camera, by comparison, weighs only 18 kgs.

Is this Nolan’s anarchic way of telling me that at the end of the day, war is not about heroism but survival?

In Nolan’s war-ravaged world, there is no one hero. Yes, there are fine performances (Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy) but you don’t get to hear heroic speeches. You do, however, hear the incoming drone of planes carrying lethal weaponry. The only extended dialogue/ speech in the film is Winston Churchill’s post the events at Dunkirk. The speech is famous and you can Google it. It about resilience and standing up for your nation, your land, your identity — but, for me, in the film, it is a warning to all of us — yes, nations win wars and armies grandstanding their arsenal is a beauteous sight to behold, but beware — War is not beautiful.

At Dunkirk and Normandy and other places (Kargil for Indians), battles were won. But, the ravages of our crimes on each other will only look beautiful when ‘77 years’ from now, a Christopher Nolan will come along, and make a film about it.

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