I saw Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK in a theater with dim bulbs, missing a good deal of the screen footage that he shot due to not watching in a proper IMAX, but that didn’t matter.
My most immediate thoughts in my head regarding DUNKIRK was that it felt exhilarating, but too bare a film. We see exhausted men on the beach, but we never really get to know them. We see men in boats coming to rescue men they do not know out of duty to country, but really – you don’t know much of anything about them. You meet some British Aviators that are mostly masked – and again, you don’t really get their ‘stories’ – but you take their measure by their actions.
This isn’t a movie that is about the STORY OF DUNKIRK – Nolan wasn’t interested in the version. That was made in 1958 by Leslie Norman, who directed the great X THE UNKNOWN and THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP! I came home from Nolan’s DUNKIRK, thirsty to know more about DUNKIRK. I watched the 58 film – and almost instantly I was falling in love with it. It is a perfect double feature with Nolan’s. It begins long before the evacuation – and it’s deals with the fight for DUNKIRK, the French buying time for the evacuation. You get that the men on that beach you see in Nolan’s films hadn’t slept for 9 days, running low on everything. Beaten and resolved to doom. You realize that many more boats were involved that you’ll see in Nolan’s film. But it is – a traditional narrative telling, until the evacuation which goes oddly docudrama. It wasn’t till over an hour and forty minutes into the 1958 film that similar shots started creeping in. Just a handful. But it made me smile – because Nolan’s film is something more than a narrative tale. It is… an experience.
The photography really puts you in the world of DUNKIRK. During some of the aerial stuff, if you have vertigo – it could get you, for me, I delighted at spinning a bit. Zimmer’s rave machine score is meant to attach to your pulse, quicken your breathing, feel DREAD… DOOM… HOPE & HOPELESSNESS… It absolutely grabs you.
This is an emphatic masterpiece – that even in it’s relatively short running time – will grab you by your collars and pull you into a nightmare not known in the west. The loss of life on the line was 400,000 and the whole of England. The world was in the balance. This was pivotal actions in History. It unified the British in a way never before imagined.
This film isn’t about Churchill saying his speeches, but the men that read them. You will see heroism develop over the course of this film. By the final act – there’s some aerial activity that just makes one want to cheer, but there are prices for actions.
I went to this screening with FatherGeek and Ernie Cline – and there were moments where we’d all wide eyed look at each other with, “FUCK YEAH” wide eyes – and shifting nervously in our seats – cuz Zimmer and the situation was getting to us.
You won’t be coming out talking about dialogue, but rather the silent moments of everything you’ll see here. Nolan gives you a film to feel and experience. His love of practical mayhem and beautiful photography are at his peak! The laughs, post-film will come from recalling your fave “OH SHIT” moments, of which there are plenty. I also recommend watching DAS BOOT with this film – cuz the Wolfpack makes an unseen cameo – that is cause for a lot of panicked thoughts of doom.
Even how Nolan plays with time and the different narratives intercut is mean. Mean in a great way, pay attentions to the boats below the planes – you’ll see them later in other points – and it’s great – because as you see characters making their way to that boat – you just start shaking your head – “DON’T GO THERE!!!!” It’s like the second time and all the other times you watch THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE… you really want the characters to not go poking around farm houses. Ya know? “That place… is an EVILLLLL Place!” What’s great about Nolan’s time play is it rewards you for paying attention. But you better believe when we get the callback, Zimmer will hit you with crazy low sub-bass that will unsettle ya – and a beat that makes one nervous and a bit twitchy.
Now the most important question – how did I feel about the great Harry Styles? Well, I thought he was highly appropriate – in that great tradition of putting singers in war films. They did it all the time back in the 60’s – and it’s a great call back to a well worn tradition in the genre. To be honest, I didn’t pay him much mind. But he wasn’t at all annoying.
I love that Nolan steered clear of the Command Structure version of War films. We get Branagh as Commander Bolton, but while definitely taking responsibity for the men on the beach, this operation is a total fucked pooch of a situation – and that’s always FANTASTIC for War films.
Think GUNS OF NAVARONE – if Peck and Niven don’t get the job done all those men and all those ships will go down. The stakes are unreal. But no grander than those you see here. Only here – it’s vague orders. “SURVIVE” “PROTECT” “BRING HOME”.
SURVIVE characters are desperate and make immediate decisions that may doom them and others because of their shellshocked, I MUST LIVE AT ALL COSTS behavior. These characters are grasping at straws. Anything moving away from the beach feels like a good idea. But drowning men will often drown those attempting to save them. It’s an unfortunate reality of human nature, and Nolan doesn’t shy from it. Gotta say, I’d love to see Nolan do THE USS INDIANAPOLIS STORY – his skill with sustained nearly unbearable tension – well it is a delight. A pure delight to get everyone in the theater sitting up and forward. Completely engaged and some saying mental prayers while others – like me scream mental OH FUCKS and OH SHITS – cuz this is one hell of a ride film. In some ways the film reminds me of Spielberg’s DUEL. Now, personally I prefer DUEL, but DUEL is fucking DUEL.
I still personally prefer MEMENTO and DARK KNIGHT, but this would be right about there for me. And given its brief runtime, I’ll watch the absolute blazes out of this. Possibly one of the coolest things about this screening was catching up with Ernie – there were points when Mark Rylance’s Mr Dawson would do or say something, where I could just see the delight of Ernie thinking… “That’s my HALLIDAY!” – Or that might’ve just been me thinking that exact thought and just making believe like I can read Ernie’s mind. We’re geek friends. Of course we can.
This is a film to go see. You don’t need IMAX to love it, but boy I know I have to check it out at Bob Bullock some time soon. If you love the film experience, follow your curiosity to the 1958 DUNKIRK – and check out some DUNKIRK Newsreels – it really is something to watch this operation. There’s a shot in the 1958 film, where you have boats sailing up the Thames as those inflatable big old blimp looking things were in the air about LONDON – and it’s a great shot! Very evocative. But also – listen to the dialogue in the film – the use of slang – it’s great. But it is also telling the story that Nolan didn’t bother with, but is absolutely fascinating and perfectly done here!
Why keep telling WWII movies? Because some need reminding that the NAZIS were bad m’kay? And just how noble a populace can be. England stood as one and got the bloody job done. It wasn’t winning a battle as much as surviving to fight another day, but doing it with every Brit with a boat. Again, Nolan’s film is laser focused on the experience of that fateful time, where a nations people came to the rescue of their fighting men. It’s a helluva tale!
Keep it cool,