Dunkirk: An Immersive Masterpiece
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Christopher Nolan’s war film, Dunkirk is a wondrous masterpiece. Set in the front of World War II, the film strings along suspense, emotional sensitivity, unnoticed bravery and human-spirit to make for a film that leaves you spellbound.
Based on the infamous Dunkirk evacuation that took place during the second world war, the film takes a three-setting structure as it attempts to tell the story through the perspectives of 300,000 soldiers being evacuated through the land, sea and air. The ongoing chaos, a sense of abandonment, a growing fear of enemies closing in on borders and their triumphant mission is what drives the core of this film.
Dunkirk starts off in spooky silence. Six soldiers walk about an abandoned streets with their faces drenched in defeat. As they hear the terrifying gun-shots of their enemies they scatter about, fighting for survival. This tone of survival, defeat and unavoidable deaths is what fills the frame of Nolan’s Dunkirk.
It has to be noted that Nolan’s three setting structure though complicated is quite a brilliant way to approach this story. A week’s worth of chaos and terror on land becomes equivalent to a day’s worth of struggle in sea which in turn matches the anxiousness of fighting a one hour fuel timeline on a fighter plane. These three perspectives lay down the scope for tension and succeed in blowing your mind by following up this tension with a relief-laden survival.
It is admirable that Nolan never tries to milk your emotions by exerting melodrama through the character’s back-stories. Dunkirk dives straight into chaos and only highlights the soldiers and their struggle to survival at the front of total isolation. As the confusion of not knowing where to go or what to do grow larger, the internal conflicts of these soldiers and their survival instincts start to become dominant. Such an impeccable portrayal of confusion is what brings about an entirely immersive experience.
Furthermore, shots demonstrating an oil spill, soldiers screaming “Abandon ship”, the British Spitfire running out of fuel and the helplessness of those men on the land contribute greatly to create a restless and agitated atmosphere. In fact, you hardly remember these characters; all you remember is their fight to survival.
Nolan never spends much time trying to get you to route for the characters. Instead, he immerses you in their story so deeply that you start to believe that you’re there with them. As they glance across the sea, pining to reach their home which is within sight, you feel their pain. Their loneliness despite being surrounded by thousands gets to you and lastly, their shell-shocked reactions transfer onto your mind instantly. This deep-seated investment that Nolan drives you to make, demonstrates his success as a master story-teller.
In the end, a young soldier hesitantly utters “But, all we’ve done is survive”, to this an old civilian responds “That’s enough for now.” These words lend the viewers a sense of great comfort. The celebration of their survival is highlighted beautifully by interspersing the moment with Winston Churchill’s enlightening speech on the success of this “Mission Dynamo”.
Just as each soldier pays his respects to the late heroes in his own way, an Air Force captain burns his fighter plane to avoid being seized by the enemy. This image that illustrates the non acceptance of defeat stays back in your mind, haunting you for hours after the film. This in itself indicates the victory of Nolan’s minimal-dialogue approach.
If director Nolan is the brains behind Dunkirk, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema is the backbone. His visual storytelling is beyond brilliant in the film. The fact that you get to experience these harsh realities in 70 MM makes this experience all the more authentic.
When the word ‘War’ is strewn across a story, you expect crowded sequences and a lot of ruthless bloodshed but Hoytema gives you a unique outlook. In the film, most of the sequences cover landscape and showcase empty territories to create a sense of abandonment the soldiers encounter. This interesting visual perspective was refreshing to witness. The aerial sequences were especially breathtaking. Most of the footage on land is shot handheld, thereby elevating the tension in the air. Every now and then, wide shots make their way into the scene uplifting the drama to greater heights. This edgy experimentation serves the cinematographer well.
Hans Zimmer contributes invaluably to another legendary film yet again. In Dunkirk, his music creates recurring waves of emotion in the viewer. As sounds of piercing fighter planes make their way into the narrative, you feel as shell-shocked as the characters. His mastery lies in effectively making sure that the enemy is felt even though they are never shown to you physically.
Tom Glynn-Carney, Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles and many other powerhouse performers deliver exactly what is expected of them. They deliver uniformity through their performances, making sure they never stand out unnecessarily. Their camouflaging technique enhances the director’s vision.
On the whole, Dunkirk is most definitely the best film of 2017. Don’t miss a chance to experience its immersive brilliance on the silver screens.