Dunkirk: A Masterful Effort
Nolan’s war epic succeeds in fusing the three elements of air, water, and earth, to tell of an epic battle and its consequences
Christopher Nolan’s much-awaited and much-hyped World War II film is as much about the famous evacuation of Dunkirk as it is about the three elements: air (the sky), water (the sea), and earth (land). Epic in scope as we have come to expect a Nolan project to be, Dunkirk will go down as one of the greatest war sagas ever realised on screen. That being said, I wouldn’t go as far as to call it his best film. While my two personal favourites are, and perhaps will always be, The Prestige and Inception, there is no doubt that every production the man undertakes is as grand in scale as it is meticulous in delivery. The themes Nolan chooses cannot be more different, and hence his filmography till date is spread over a massive canvas. The inspiration for his creations is another serious talking point: Inception’s dream-within-a-dream analogy, that forms the basis for the narrative, can be seen in one of the poems of Edgar Allan Poe; The Dark Knight Rises is, in many ways, a futuristic take on Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities. What Christopher Nolan did with Batman was also quite something! I’m no superhero film buff, nor am I a connoisseur of the comics on which most of those films are based. But, I admired the Batman trilogy with Christian Bale at the helm. Nolan brought out that anti-heroic quality of the central character (and the constant tussle with his inner demons) perhaps better than anyone in recent memory.
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney
Director: Christopher Nolan
Much like most of the man’s work (Memento and Inception, in particular), Dunkirk is a film I’d like to watch again. It is not as complex as the aforementioned titles, but a re-viewing will provide me with a chance to see certain aspects of the narrative in a different light. Another onerous task is to review such a film: there’s so much to say, but very limited space to say it in. Three parallel stories unfold on land, air, and sea, as the German Army has the Allied Forces (British and French, especially) surrounded in Dunkirk during the Battle of France. Most of the British troops can almost see their own coast, but they are stranded because of the paucity of ships needed for a full-scale evacuation. A small boat, manned by an elderly gentleman and two boys, heads for Dunkirk, but nothing is explained as to their motivation for the treacherous voyage. Royal Air Force fighter planes do continuous sorties in order to protect the men trapped on land and in the water. Enemy fire keeps coming at them from all directions: fighters get shot down into the sea; aerial assaults cripple the soldiers waiting like sitting ducks; torpedoes sink the Navy’s paltry fleet. But the enemy itself is rarely seen. Yes, we do get a glimpse of a plane or two, but the Germans themselves, remain faceless.
It is the anticipation of those impending assaults that keeps you riveted, as opposed to the scenes themselves. Zimmer’s music helps build tension onscreen as the events come to a head – you never know if all hell will break loose at that point, or not. Nolan’s Dunkirk succeeds in fusing the three major elements of air, water, and earth, to tell of an epic battle and its consequences, but the presentation is as understated as ever. This understatement the film achieves makes the war, and its many casualties, even more palpable to the viewer. It’s a visually spectacular effort, as most Nolan projects usually are! The feel of crashing planes and aerial attacks is very real thanks to the supreme camera angles and cinematography on display. With minimal dialogue and a sombre tone, the film chronicles a famous evacuation of Allied troops during the Second World War. It is that sombreness (which refrains from using shock tactics) that convinces you of the utter needlessness of battle, in general, and the resultant loss of life because of it. Not once does Dunkirk get didactic over its subject matter. The film is sure to join the ranks of such epics as The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns Of Navarone, Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, and The Thin Red Line. War is one of the hardest topics to tackle artistically, and by the way of Dunkirk, Nolan shows us just what a master film-maker he is.