Christopher Nolan’s cinema is emotional and spectacular. He is one of the finest craftsmen of visual storytelling we have ever seen. Dunkirk is no exception. It plays by these rules. It punctures the surface of the screen and soaks the audience in action. We drown amongst soldiers whose ship has just been torpedoed. We crouch amongst the thousands bombed along the shoreline. We run, we swim, and desperately bid for an escape. Our heart pulses at the speed of another infamous Hans Zimmer score. It’s complete immersion.
The film opens with a shot of soldiers walking through Dunkirk. It is eerily quiet. There is a sense of something familiar, the British uniforms and the colourfully decorated rows of snug french housing, leaves blowing over doorsteps. But the faces of these men do not reflect the habitat; they are deeply scarred emotionally and physically. The closer we get to them, the closer a presence of danger is felt. And then there is FIRE. It ricochets like crazy and within a matter of seconds, only a single man is left standing. This is the young-blooded hero played by Fionn Whitehead. He plays an innocent-looking solider, handsome, wholehearted, but whose world is defined by survival of the fittest, which includes the occasional interpersonal conflict with toxic men hellbent on staying alive, as well as the dodging of shells and masses of shipwrecked steel. The entire world is a vision of hell landing on earth. It reminds us that the second world war is never to be forgotten.
After all is shot and edited, it is purely a cinematic interpretation of events. There’s no intricate plot for the clever-minded historian to applaud. It is all action at Dunkirk. It has to be. There’s no time left for strategising or playing games. You either cross the channel or you die. A crisis that some may feel is ashamedly prescient of today. But Nolan never gives you space to think or shed a tear. Every sequence is impeccably timed and the sound so commanding that it creates an almost 4D viewing experience. He catches every nerve ending and leaves us drunk at the closing.