You know you’re in for a ride when you’re watching a Christopher Nolan film; from the unapologetically brilliant Dark Knight series to the head scratching intensity of Inception, he is synonymous with downright fantastic films. Dunkirk, the crowning jewel in his filmography, is as if he’s meticulously pulled the strings of his greatest works into a story that pulls at your own heart strings. It’s a masterpiece and is exactly what an emotive war what film should be.
The film follows the events that took place at Dunkirk, where 400,000 men had to be evacuated across the channel and back to England. Three different points of view are interwoven across different amounts of time, a Nolan classic to play with the perception of time, but it’s never off-putting as you’re way too engrossed in the way this story unfolds. It differs from your standard war film – you don’t find out much about individual characters, there’s no backstory, no ‘what’s next’ we’re accustomed to, but you don’t need it. Character building is thrown by the wayside, they don’t have time for idle chat to fill audiences in on their past lives. They’re at war, and so are you.
And this is where the movie soars with the sheer overload you’ll experience at the cinema. The sound effects are turned up to 11; you’ll definitely be flinching when gunfire strikes, or when Spitfires swoop overhead and you anxiously wait for the inevitable bomb drop. Nolan captures that feeling of being just 1 of the 400,000 men waiting to leave the shores of Dunkirk.
Instead of seeing how a character feels, you’re likened to one of them. The sheer scale of the shots assault your vision and fill your senses, while more confined moments on vessels & aircrafts close the action in, making you feel the claustrophobia the soldiers felt right in your seat. There’s a moment where the panic of a soldier trapped raises your pulse, quickens your breath & makes you uneasy – I couldn’t believe how successful a 2D film with no gimmicks could make me feel such feelings.
While the visuals keep you glued to the screen, Hans Zimmer’s sound score only elevates the feeling of immediacy faster and faster. There’s a constant ticking of a watch that never lets up, and the use of the Shepard’s Tone (a corkscrew effect where it’s always going up and up with no end) throughout the film is unforgiving. You’re always waiting for an explosion to end the elevation, but the rise continues, on and on, never stopping.
We can’t talk about the film without addressing about the elephant in the room – Harry Styles. It was definitely a move to bring new audiences in, I heard around 20 girls clapping and whooping when his name was shown in the credits, but you can’t fault his portrayal of a young soldier desperate to get home. He fits right in with other young actors like Fionn Whitehead & Aneurin Barnard, but you won’t be able to watch without your brain constantly telling you it’s Harry Styles.
Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy & Mark Rylance shine in this ensemble cast, all pushing the story onwards with great pace. The movie is fairly short for Nolan at just 1hr 45, but the entire film is near enough 1 act and therefore the perfect time to see the event through from beginning to end.
Even if you’re not a fan of war films, you have to see this film. It’s exactly why cinema still exists and will continue to. The story is straightforward, but the storytelling is far from it and doesn’t let you catch your breath at any point, reflective of the real life tragedies felt in wars across time. See it on the biggest screen possible, with the loudest speakers they have. It’s a film that you want to be immersed in, or as Nolan says, ‘VR without the headset’.
Words by student ambassador Jordan Lee-Perrie.