5 Ways Dunkirk Shatters the Hollywood World War Movie Cliche


Dunkirk is yet another feather in the cap of director Christopher Nolan; it’s fascinating to see his seamless transition from science fiction and action-blockbuster genre to historical semi-documentary film-making, reminding one of the filmmaking journey of his senior contemporary, the Hollywood giant Spielberg.

Scale of the Film
The expansive scale of production, from the standpoint of cast, crew, props and special –effects, has surpassed all World War movies made in Hollywood. Nolan’s deliberate delve into World War was to document a WWII event from an angle never done before, and he succeeds. The beginning sequence is visceral, in-your-face and devoid of Hollywood drama. As one of the primary characters, British private Tommy, approaches the end of the narrow road skirted by clustered houses of Dunkirk, a breathtaking view of thousands of soldiers lined along the coast give us a glimpse of the astounding scale of production. From sinking destroyers to bodies being engulfed in smoke and water, the scale of Dunkirk is extraordinary.

Cinematography instead of Dialogues
Here’s another innovation you won’t be surprised of if you followed Nolan’s filmography. He overshadows characterization and dialogues in favour of visual storytelling and visually stunning cinematography which communicates the event crystally clear to the audience, without the need of language. The subtle music of Hans Zimmer adds to the “cinematographic linguistics”.

The Three Lenses
Tom Hardy as Farrier, the Spitfire pilot serves as the lens of the event from the air, Whitehead (Tommy) is the lens of the land (The Mole), and Peter (played by Tom Glynn-Carney), as the lens of the sea, are loosely the three perspectives of the Dunkirk battle.Nolan’s mastery of editing and storytelling weaves all these three elements to create a captivating impact of the terror and mass hysteria which Dunkirk encapsulated.

Snowball Effect – Flashback in Nolan Style
Nolan integrated his psychedelic ‘snowball effect’ technique of videographic storytelling, which mesmerized audiences in his earlier masterpiece – Inception. Although not used as extensively as Inception, it brought in a magical element nonetheless in the visual storytelling of Dunkirk. The scene of Farrier’s co-pilot’s spitfire getting hit and spiralling down the sea was cut short by the land and sea sequences, only to get reprised later in a Nolan time loop visual voodoo, wherein the pilot is shown being rescued by Peter.

Spotlight on the Collective Emotion of Soldiers
If there’s one element which puts Dunkirk in a class of its own, (not necessarily ahead of other WW II movies of the past) is Nolan’s singular focus to enthuse the collective horror of soldiers in dire straits. This is probably why dialogues were minimized and characterization wasn’t a priority. If certain detractors of the movie cite its use of jarring bass in IMAX theatres or the movie’s shallow metrics in showcasing individual distress, rest assured it wasn’t done due to oversight, it was deliberate. The collective psyche of Dunkirk is what makes it a classic semi-documentary, not just another WW II movie which glorifies individual heroism.

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