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Random Thoughts: Dunkirk IMAX, or Christopher Nolan Refuses to Do a Straight Linear Narrative

"If I was in World War II, they'd call me Spitfire." -The Prodigy


•If you're watching this, chances are this isn't your first Christopher Nolan film. So you'll probably be expecting another mind-blowing subject matter, the way Inception blew your mind with lucid dreaming, or the way Interstellar blew your mind with the fifth dimension. Dunkirk is a different kind of Nolan film, in the sense that its subject matter – the British evacuation of Dunkirk during the Second World War – isn't going to blow your mind.

Dunkirk tells three stories, with three different themes: 1) Land, with the stranded soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk; 2) Sea, with the civilian boatmen whose naval vessels are commandeered to rescue the stranded soldiers; and 3) Air, with the brave pilots who flew the Spitfires.

•Since it seems that Nolan is unable (or refuses) to do a straight linear narrative, he chooses to go for his famous non-linear storytelling style. Here he uses three different time signatures, which are stated in the text for each of the three stories. "The Mole", which is the beach narrative, takes place over a week. "The Sea", about the boats that come to the rescue, takes place over a day. "The Air", which features the brilliant dogfights, takes place over an hour. All three stories are intercut with one another, and they conclude simultaneously in the end.

Michael Caine is in this picture once again, this time appearing as the voice giving instructions to the RAF pilots in their Spitfires. But does Michael Caine really have to be in all of Nolan's films? The answer to that, apparently, is a yes. The director himself confirms it: "He has to be in all my films, after all."

•Cillian Murphy is listed in the end credits as "Shivering Soldier". This got me excited about a possibility in filmmaking: Is it possible to make a film where no character is named specifically? I would argue it is. In fact, Dunkirk should've been the perfect film to prove that theory, if only they didn't have to name some of the soldiers. But still, Cillian Murphy as "Shivering Soldier" is a step in the right direction, so I hope one daring filmmaker actually does it in the future.

Not sure if these guys were credited as "Running Soldiers".

•Hans Zimmer's musical score is bloody awesome. His use of a literal ticking clock to enhance the suspense of a ticking clock narrative is genius. Coupled with the awesome sound design, this film's audio really succeeds in driving home the urgency, bringing us as close as possible to the tension felt by the actual soldiers at Dunkirk.

•The A-list actors delivered great performances, as is to be expected in a Christopher Nolan film. Mark Rylance always nails the kind yet authoritative grandfather role. Tom Hardy, despite having his face mostly covered again, overcomes that hurdle by acting with his eyes. James D'Arcy assumes another second-in-command naval officer role like in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. And Kenneth Branagh was just excellent. As an authority figure who carries the burden of war on his shoulders while trying to appear strong in the face of his men, Branagh just knocks the ball out of the park. Well of course he does. He's Kenneth Branagh.

•Apart from the A-listers, it's this film's relatively unknown cast that provides a great complement to the acting department. Fionn Whitehead has that young and inexperienced rookie look about him, which is probably what most of the soldiers at Dunkirk looked like. Barry Keoghan was able to capture in his performance the spirit of a boy who awakens to the harsh realities of war (too bad he died, I liked his face). And Harry Styles...

•Harry Styles is quite good. I've heard a few One Direction songs, but I'm not aware who the individual members are, so of course I've never heard of Harry Styles. Which turned out to be a good thing, as I had no prejudice toward his acting ability, and was quite surprised that the kid had some chops. Also, he has some sort of Daniel Padilla-feel about him. And I don't know if that's a good or bad thing.

•SM MOA's IMAX theatre didn't show this in 70 mm. Such a shame, really, when they showed Interstellar in 70 mm back in 2014. I don't know, maybe there aren't that many celluloid cinephiles in this country. So I had to resort to seeing this in IMAX. My only gripe here was why wasn't the image projected to cover the entire screen? Even in The Dark Knight, the scenes shot in IMAX covered the whole screen. What happened, IMAX MOA?

Nothing like seeing the majestic blue sea in full IMAX glory.

Dunkirk. USA/UK. 2017.

Original rating: 8.5/10
Harry Styles' Daniel Padilla-feel: -0.1
Nolan's use of different time signatures: +0.1
IMAX MOA not projecting to its full extent: -0.1
Sound design: +0.1
Musical score: +0.1
Finally seeing what a Spitfire looks like: +0.1
Final rating: 8.7/10


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