20 August 2017
Ernest Hemingway once bet his friends that he could write a story in a mere six words. Is it possible to come up with a whole story line, introduce characters, and lean on the emotions of the reader with such tight constraints? This is what he came up with:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
It’s been shown time and again that working with creative constraints can actually change the way one thinks of a project to produce a breakthrough piece of work. It’s the opposite to the paradox of choice. I don’t know if Christopher Nolan consciously made the decision to severely curtail the amount of dialogue (you could probably fit all dialogue onto four sheets of A4), but the decision to do so has had a stunning effect.
With such a constraint in place how is it possible to tell the true story of 400,000 men becoming stranded and subsequently rescued from a French beach? I don’t pretend to have the answer to this. Nolan clearly does, though, as Dunkirk is an absolute masterclass in storytelling. From the aforementioned lack of dialogue, to the fact that he’s managed to seamlessly stitch together events from different perspectives (land, sea and air) that took place over different time scales (one week, one day and one hour, respectively) without the viewer getting lost or overwhelmed. I’ll be watching and analysing this film over and over again when I get the chance.
I don’t think there was an emotion that Dunkirk didn’t toy with at some stage. I was in equal parts thrilled, excited, scared, anxious, saddened, delighted and moved. It took me the best part of a hour to reintegrate back into reality after the film had finished.
The stand-out performance goes to Tom Hardy who, wearing a flying cap and mask for 99% of his time on screen, manages to take you on a journey of bravery and self-sacrifice - and all the toil and troubles involved - with only his eyes and eyebrows.
The cinematography and effects are stunning. The set is spectacular, and the score by Hans Zimmer is simply breathtaking.
Watch it at the cinema while you still can. A work of true genius.