Do you remember the docking sequence from Interstellar? Well, this movie is like that all the way through.
This film is easily the best film I’ve seen this year and it’s not a traditional film. It’s weird to say that since the movie looks like your typical war movie in the vein of Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge. It is anything but a typical war movie. Why? Well, it’s all in the editing.
Dunkirk tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation; specifically, it’s three different stories showing three different views of the evacuation from three different locations. There’s the story of a British soldier on the beach trying to get on a boat by any means necessary to leave, the story of a father, son and their hand using their personal sail boat to help ferry soldiers to safety and the story of two pilots protecting the beach from German bombs.
The twist (because it’s Christopher Nolan and there has to be a twist): The story on the beach takes place over a week, the story at sea takes place over a day and the story in the air takes place over an hour. Sounds weird on paper, but the execution is a thing of beauty.
When I say “it’s all in the editing,” I mean it’s all in the editing. The story is told nonlinearly and is given the impression that the events are happening all at the same time, linked together through similar emotions or events. At certain points, you can start to see where they events link up in terms of time. In fact, in one story, you can actually see what’s going to happen at the end of another story.
It sounds confusing but it really isn’t, because most of the time, you’re not paying attention to how the stories link up, you’re paying attention to the action. Not just the action of warfare but the decisions that characters make. This film is incredibly silent with barely any dialogue among the main cast unless it’s necessary. This film is primarily visual. You don’t need to hear the cast talk about their plans, you just watch as they carry them out, fighting against the ticking clock (and I’m serious, there is the sound a ticking clock ticking throughout the entirety of the film. Literally. No joke. If you listen, you can hear that maddening ticking sound, telling the characters that they are running out of time).
I always love Christopher Nolan films because he always challenges you to think about what you’re seeing. You’re not just a passive observer, you’re supposed to be thinking as you view the film. You’re supposed to participate. Dunkirk is probably his most challenging film because unlike Inception, he doesn’t explain everything that’s going on three times. In Dunkirk, you know what’s happening because you’re thinking about it and you’re seeing it happen in front of you. You feel the emotions that are linked across space and time. Dunkirk is purely and simply a true viewing experience.