Dunkirk…Warning: Spoilers ahead. Read only if you have seen the film-
As we live and work surrounded by media and advertising, we’re left in a constant bustling flurry of noise, activity, and social feed bombardment. How do we escape or look past this and capture something real with emotion? Something more than just another 30 second or social documentary or a fleeting series which you can binge consume in a night?
Where is the story today? The story that gets us to focus on a specific idea. The precise emotion it creates every time you see it. The memories it leaves us with long after. A truly powerful story cuts through all the noise and roars loudly in our minds outside of the humdrum of the clutter of life. It something that inspires us, and stays with us.
For me personally, watching Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk was, in fact, this special moment of storytelling epiphany. Sure, the cinematic vistas, the depth of field and visually visceral action played a role in this, but in reality, it was the simpler things. It was the closeups and studio-like photography that shot between the sequences unfolding across massive panoramic views. The young soldiers portrayed in a series of portraits in war. The wide shots of the beach displayed like fine art paintings of a minimalist world of distress. The cadence and tempo of battle set the scene. It was the bombardment from the air and the machine guns from all the angles. It was the way the ocean water portrayed as a sponge, inflicting loss like a powerful magnet of the human chaos it permitted. There was nowhere to run when on the beach. There was no way to escape in air or sea - It seemed hopeless - but there was one arrow that shot through all the stories- all the tragedies- one survivor and soldier.
Enter Tom Hardy, a fighter pilot flying one of only three planes to attack the stifling and powerful German forces. Hardy’s craft- seemly a supersonic spirit in war which clings to life and eventually orchestrates massive change. He seemed to possess a power that seemed to be both timeless and beyond what we are capable of understanding, yet ever so human in sensibility and preparation.
Hardy’s persona is beyond all being that we are familiar with so far in the film. surviving, flying, fighting and victorious. His skill is sharp and he is emotionless. He is beyond doubt. He never celebrates a kill; victory is his purpose and every decision he makes so critically.
As the tension builds and mounts - there is no respite- and there is no pause for breath in the moment. For every peaceful moment the soldiers sense, there continues to be the dread ahead. Smalls wins arrive, but the main battle is yet to rage. The spitfire, now Hardy battle toughened with kills - seems as he is flying for days with the spell of time that Christopher Nolan casts.
Hardy becomes the centrifugal force that pulls together the worlds of each group’s time with the powerful magnet of hope. Hope not in the traditional sense of storytelling, but hope as an enigmatic almighty force, overcoming all time and the all powerful. The enemy fire never striking him even once. Invincible not with armor, but with fierce determination, courage, and instinct ahead and behind the timeline we see.
Through Christopher Nolan’s brilliant vision, the story the of Dunkirk unfolds. Retelling this period of war through time machine like travelers who all see perspectives differently of the events unfolding. What is so powerful here is the weaving of one story with many moving parts into so many different times throughout the week. It is Nolan’s unique approach to storytelling.
The music by Hans Zimmer warns you to feel the adrenaline of battle. His chugging sound effects and repeated stabs, click and clacks of almost of a watch, tracking the heart beats of the soldiers raging towards the never ending chaos. And in the most dire of circumstances, you start to hear the sounds: Click Clock Click clock repeats on the beat- Click Clock Click Clock- Nolan creates the time shifts in sync with the symphonic sounds.
In the end, as Hardy’s engines cut from running out of fuel the sounds of strings unfurl an ethereal, yet earth shaking soundtrack. Hardy glides over the beaches at a speed and course which seems eternal. Roaring past burning beaches and battle scenes. The life of the thousands of troops around him on land and sea coming to a pause - as if respecting his final pass- the soldiers watch and cheer him in awe. He makes no effort. His situation of struggle cannot be changed. He knows his fate.
Hardy winds his landing wheels to land. The machine no longer a machine, but just an extension of his own life unwound; he shows a sense of even greater calm after battle and his drive is even stronger.
Now on the brink of capture, he removes his mask and the dark shadows of the enemy approach. The Germans remaining faceless, shadows exposing their dark forces of evil, and Hardy is now gone.
The timeless story that Dunkirk tells is created by resilience, pain and the realization of strength. The present and the past constantly colliding, but each time zone being present across both are the makers of change and the powers of good. In the face of overwhelming odds, we now can believe that determination can destroy the darkest of enemies.
A Good story can create this feeling. In the age of storytelling, creating an everlasting story that inspires is the challenge. What resonates with individuals will vary, but the art of storytelling is constant. Which brings me back to my original point: where is the story today? What was the last story that evoked emotion from you? In a space where quality can get lost with the need to over produce an overload of content, it’s important to find value in a good story. And never lose sight on the gift of a story that inspires, pushes you and makes you think. Nolan’s genius, creative mind inspired me and so many. He pushed the boundaries. Filming in 70MM is rarely done these days. It’s more expensive to shoot on and more expensive for theaters to project. Nolan had a vision, and he achieved it. He’s a director that creates for the art, and his passion shows through his work. In the age of the infinite stream of videos and content released, this is something to appreciate and respect.
Stay inspired. Become creators of change. And Hope.
(Written by Dinesh Boaz. Additional edits by Maddie Fantle @Digitalcontentlab)