I’ll be honest. I struggle to take in the discourse surrounding the work of Christopher Nolan. I’d consider myself to be a fan, which places me at odds with the vocal minority that seem pretty keen to let it be known to anyone who will listen that they don’t like his work. In many ways this is an understandable reaction; Nolan is the biggest director of his generation, a man with unlimited means at his disposal, and such success is bound to provoke a backlash, but still, I find it difficult to look at the things being said without switching off.
This all being said, I went into the filmmaker’s latest blockbuster, slender war epic Dunkirk, with a sense of apprehension that I’ve not felt with this particular director before. There has been a lot of emphasis on the viewing conditions under which one MUST experience the film, with 70mm IMAX, a niche format, the director’s preferred manner in which to take in his war opus. Given that I had no way of seeing the aforementioned, and given that anything other than 70mm IMAX would have felt like a compromise anyway, I settled for the most convenient screening to hand (a 4K digital showing). While I have no way of comparing the manner in which I saw the film with the director’s desired way, outside of my own experiences with the mammoth technology, I will say this; the work in regular old 16:9 felt impressive and highly affecting, and near-overwhelming in parts, and a complete sensory experience.
Dunkirk is an unexpectedly experimental piece of work, which takes the British filmmaker’s obsession with time and temporality to new levels of post-modern, post-formalist heights. We see the events of Dunkirk play out from three different angles; the land, the sea, and the sky. With each setting comes its own time stamp, with the three relative situations intertwining around one another liberally. It makes for an interesting approach, and one that injects a well-trodden genre with a sense of vigour often lacking in similar fare.
Christopher Nolan has been vocal about the fact that he looks to the early cinema for inspiration, to a time when grande tales were told with the mechanics of image and little else. Nolan is a contemporary master of using visual spectacle as emotional projectile, with the emotion coming directly from the brute force of the vision. This is complimented by an incredible and deafening sound-scape. Meanwhile, dialogue is kept to a minimum, as is background information on any of the key players, allowing for the film to breathe as a surreal and immersive every-man adventure. I couldn’t help but think of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity afterwards, with that film and this making for a new subset of post-millennial, post-cinema, movie-as-theme-park-ride experiences that place emphasis on immediacy and the moment.