Land, Sea, & Air: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’


Photo from The Atlantic

By Andrew Becker
The Carolinian

The evacuation of forces from the Belgian beaches of Dunkirk was not an easy reality for the allied forces of Europe to face in 1940.

Surrounded by German offensives and with their backs against the water of the English Channel, the allied troops were lacking in air support and transport; forced to rely on civilians with boats who would put their lives at risk to save others, nearly 400,000 soldiers stood in lines along the beach, taking shelling from German Luftwaffe.

In the water awaited U-boats, making the naval destroyers and vanquishers meant to take them home as dangerous as the enclosing forces surrounding the beach.

Christopher Nolan delivers a well-mastered composition in honor of this difficult point in the War with his film “Dunkirk”. Told through three equally important and interweaving threads, divided by land, by sea, and by air, the film’s democratic approach explores, at its heart, themes of bravery and honor in grave circumstances, which Nolan’s film accomplishes through powerful performances, sound, and a balance of agoraphobic and claustrophobic shots of cinematography.

The expansiveness of the beach’s sands, the depth of the Channel’s waters, and the emptiness of the sky above are transmogrified into tiny cockpits, watery hulls aboard sinking ships, and dense, crowded lines of people surrounded by weaponry.

Nolan’s direction proves masterful, with particularly impressive odd angle sea and aerial sequences. The dialogue is also sparse throughout, allowing for a more powerful performance to take over; as a result, much of the emotion in the film comes through the actor’s nonverbal communication.

Though this is not to say that the film allows for stagnation through silence, quite the opposite, the film’s minimal score and steady reliance on practical sound creates a more engaging mood throughout the plot.

“Dunkirk” is already one of the finest films released this year, and it’s a tribute you shouldn’t miss from one of the most acclaimed directors of the 21st century.