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You could see DUNKIRK as a prequel to MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. At the end of DUNKIRK, Tom Hardy stands in front of a burning plane which represents the entire world that’s on fire, at the beginning of MAD MAX he is standing on a hill with the burning world below. Nolan’s DUNKIRK and Miller’s FURY ROAD also have a similar form: both of them were shot on analogue film with minimal CGI, both have a minimalistic plot that only consists of one movement, both of them are about direct intensity. It works superbly in both films.

Nolan’s films have historical amnesia as far as history outside of the cinematic images goes. DUNKIRK shows war as a cinematographic event, not as a historical event that needs to be classified, remembered, and understood. The traces of memory that Nolan depicts are all residues of earlier war films and film styles. DUNKIRK consists of three narrative strands: “land”, “sea”, and “air”. “Land” is the story of a young soldier who is trying to escape the beach of Dunkirk in ways that would probably be labelled as desertion in front of a court-martial. This section is reminiscent of the war films of Samuel Fuller: a disorienting, pure battle for survival; pure physical cinema in a threatening world. “Sea” is comparatively introspective, with Mark Rylance playing a brave Brit who sails on a private boat across the channel with his son and a neighbor boy to pick up British soldiers. This section is the only one with something akin to characters, understandable dialogue, and classic dramaturgy. It’s most similar to the films of David Lean, also because other colors come into play here unlike the gray blue shades in the “land” section. “Air” is a Howard Hughes film: planes fly, Tom Hardy sits in a cockpit during a spectacular air combat. The three strands interweave in clever ways with Nolan’s using his characteristic trick of shifting temporal planes. “Land” takes place over a week, “sea” is set in a day, and “air” is just an hour – until they culminate together.

The use of 70mm film, another one of Nolan’s trademarks, was absolutely worth it, unlike Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT that did the same. You can tell that DUNKIRK was shot in analogue and not in colorful pixel. The grain of the material, the nuance of color, especially in the almost monochrome shots on the water and the beach, the flickering light, and the historicity of the old motion picture techniques increase the feverish, panicked atmosphere of the film. Hans Zimmer composed a fantastic score with his typical percussions evoking thudding machines, artillery, and thunderous times while the overlying string glissando conjure dizziness, waves, and the ups and downs before destruction. The patriotic pathos from an Elgar world only comes at the end, coming off like a propagandistic foreign body with droning assertions of harmony.

DUNKIRK is the most powerful and thrilling cinema event of the year so far and definitely Nolan’s best film. Criticisms mostly come from perspectives that wanted another film: a reflective film about war, one that gives space to memory. Alain Resnais made films like that, and if Nolan’s interest in film and time were serious, he might watch one his films. But when it comes to palpable booms, only MAD MAX has outdone Nolan.

Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Frankreich, USA, Großbritannien 2017, 106 min
Genre: Historical Film, War Film, Drama
Director: Christopher Nolan
Author: Christopher Nolan
DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Montage: Lee Smith
Music: Hans Zimmer
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy, Tom Hardy
FSK: 12
Release: 27.07.2017




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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