Written by Kshitij Rawat | New Delhi | Published: February 27, 2018 11:17 am Characters in Dunkirk are nameless pieces on a chessboard.

British filmmaker Christopher Nolan embarked for the first time into the realm of war filmmaking with Dunkirk. But he does not like to call it a war film. He instead prefers to call it a suspense film. He is not wrong in saying that since Dunkirk is vastly different from a typical war film. He deliberately stays away from motifs that are dominant in the works of the genre, including the best, Steven Spielberg’s path-breaking Saving Private Ryan. Nolan is known for mixing high-concepts with blockbuster cinema like no other, but Dunkirk is hardly a commercial flick and it may be his most raw “Nolan” work since Memento.

While Spielberg is clearly an influence on Nolan, and he himself has admitted that he consulted with the older man whilst in the pre-production process of the film, Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan could not be more different. Saving Private Ryan was groundbreaking for its time, but now the genre is crowded by formulaic films with similar motifs and technique of filmmaking.

Dunkirk does war filmmaking differently. It eschews the gore, the grieving mothers and wives. The film is based on the Dunkirk Evacuation of hundreds of thousands of British soldiers who had been stranded on the island of the same name and surrounded by the Germans. We hardly know the characters. There is no character development and little dialogue. And still, it works. Why? Because it gives the war a humongous scale that other movies focusing on individual characters, their background, and so forth cannot. This is bold, feisty filmmaking.

dunkirk still

The main character in Dunkirk is the event itself, and individuals we see in the film like soldiers, sergeants, civilians are nameless pieces on a chessboard. Details are not needed beyond describing the conflict itself. Details would only waste precious time. And despite that, the viewer is not detached from the conflict. In fact, there is more immersiveness than would have been otherwise. That is the brilliance of Dunkirk.

While lack of character depth makes it hard to sympathise with the protagonists, whatever they are, but it also drops the viewer directly into the conflict and this is war filmmaking at its most realistic thanks to the cinematic techniques Nolan and the brilliant Hoyte van Hoytema (cinematographer) use. If one ever wanted to experience war without danger to their constitution, this is the closest one would get. There is hardly any CGI, and special effects are mostly practical. Dunkirk is proof that CGI should always be used as less as possible and must never dominate the frame. This is in striking contrast to other other Warner Bros films especially superhero fare like Justice League that was marred by, among other things, CGI profusion. Nolan has a control over his films like few directors do with absolutely no interference by studio executives, and this is why he is called an auteur.

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