Dunkirk will have you reconsider everything you thought you knew about war movies in only two hours.
When going into a war movie, you mostly know what to expect at this point. Explosions, heartbreak, a rousing speech made by a character that you’ve followed throughout the movie’s entirety. Not the case in Christopher Nolan’s new cinematic triumph, Dunkirk.
Following three separate timelines during World War II of land, sea, and air, Dunkirk is one of the few, if not the only war movie that truly embodies the sensation of war. Meaning that the film is a lot of action, followed by a lifetime of waiting and silent air that’s only filled with a dreadful anticipation.
The Knockturnal got the chance to sit down with the team behind Dunkirk including Director Christopher Nolan, Harry Styles (Alex), Fionn Whitehead (Tommy), Jack Lowden (Collins), Barry Keoghan (George), Mark Rylance (Mr. Dawson), and Emma Thomas (Producer). The panel filled us in on their thoughts on the legend and legacy that has become the evacuation of Dunkirk and what it’s like to work with Christopher Nolan.
Although Americans might not be as familiar with the history of Dunkirk, in the United Kingdom it’s a story that children are raised on. Nolan explained that this story held a very special place in his heart, particularly because he and producer Emma Thomas made the voyage across the English Channel themselves as British citizens did over 77 years ago.
“Like most British people, Dunkirk’s a story that I’ve grown up with, I don’t even remember the first time I was told about the events,” explained Nolan, “… I came away with that experience (his and Thomas’ crossing) with my respect and fascination for the people who had taken part in the real evacuation, so it’s just something that I never quite understood why a modern film hasn’t been made about it and as a filmmaker those are the kinds of gaps that you’re looking to fill.”
Mark Rylance also spoke about learning about “the spirit of Dunkirk” as a child and explained how historical resources helped bring his character to life before he even got on set.
“There’s a museum in London called the Imperial War Museum and much to my delight they had a lot of audio recordings with men like Mr. Dawson…and they helped me to understand how little they (the British) knew about what they were going towards, the government at the time was keen not to frighten the British people who had only just gotten over the First World War…so those recordings were very helpful to me,” Rylance said.
And what a history it is. As far as biographical films to tackle, Dunkirk is one of the least glamorous ones to try and stage, however, all the actors agreed that on Nolan’s set it’s less of a restaging and more of a literal recreation…minus a fear for their lives.
“Chris kind of creates this world around you where you don’t have to act too much and a lot of it is reacting as much,” said first time actor and musician Harry Styles, “As much as anyone possibly could help you be in a situation, he creates that for you…Chris just creates an environment on set where you’re not intimidated so much by the scale of everything that’s going on behind you, he makes it feel very intimate with you and the camera.”
Star of the film Fionn Whitehead, also a new comer to the silver screen, quickly agreed with Styles. “It’s far less about what Chris actually said to us, and more about how he works,” Whitehead explained, “It means that you are just sucked into this world. I think anyone who’s a fan of Chris’ films can see that the characters are grounded in such a sense of reality even when they’re so obscure and surreal, that you’re able to emphasize with them so much easier. And I think that was an amazing thing to be a part of, to be thrown into this world and just be reacting to the situations that he was putting in front of us.”
But the truly beautiful thing about Dunkirk isn’t solely the immersive world Nolan’s created or the performances of the cast, but it’s what it represents. The true “Spirit of Dunkirk”.
“I think the thing that I love about this story is that it’s sort of a reversal of traditional roles,” Thomas said, “Normally we’re used to watching any film that involves war or the army, they’re the heroes and they come in and they save the day and I think what’s incredible about the evacuation is that it was the regular people, it was the ordinary people who came in and completely reversed things and changed the course of history.”
Witness what the courage of “ordinary people” can accomplish yourself! Dunkirk is now open nationwide in digital and IMAX theatres.