Let’s take a look at a template, shall we.
Minimalist Dialogue + Inspiring Soundtrack + Every Minute Action Plot + Immersive Viewing Experience.
Which movie(s) comes to mind when you think of the above template: GRAVITY, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and *drum-roll* DUNKIRK.
It is absolutely true that all the movies mentioned above should be experienced in a movie-theatre. Otherwise, you will deprive yourself of something magnificent. The movie’s true wonder cannot be justified on your 6-inch or 14-inch screens.
Only a select few, filmmakers I mean, can muster up a grand experience as the above movies. They just can’t be called movies, they are Experiences.
- Gravity presented a visceral and aural experience when in Space surviving through debris.
- Mad-Max: Fury Road presented unstoppable action set-pieces coupled with visceral and aural experience in a post-apocalyptic world where sand/dust/sand-hills are the only terrain.
And now, it is Dunkirk, which is set in the WWII era. No other filmmaker had tried to present WWII in the manner that Nolan have presented. I guess, this puts a lid on all the formulas that can be implemented to present WWII through a movie-viewing experience in its entirety. There is no other way to call the shots to provide a different perspective. Happy to be proven wrong, and call it a masterpiece.
But, is Dunkirk a masterpiece, as mainstream media is calling out to be? More on this, later in the post.
You must have noticed that I had highlighted Nolan have presented above. From now on, I will refer to the works of Christopher Nolan as the exports from his own country – Nolanland. His works do not belong to our mediocre land anymore. It is something greater than what we can perceive of.
What does Nolanland comprises of?
- Nolanland possesses the unique ability to turn some simple and some highly complex subject-matter and bring it into blockbuster territory. A territory he generally invades on the seventh month of most years.
- Nolanland is filled with pent-up action, always feeling climactic, non-linear narrative, heightened paranoia, a sense of loss and subtle exuberance.
- Nolanland always challenges the audience. You need to wear your thinking-cap when you are viewing his cinema.
- It’s main characters are flawed, to say the least. But it is after undergoing a harrowing journey that they truly become superheroes in their own way.
- Finally, Nolanland provides a full-rounded movie-viewing experience through traditional means of filmmaking. If David Fincher is all for Digital, then Christopher Nolan is the exact opposite. Both master-supreme of their crafts.
Now, that you are aware of what you are getting into when you are in Nolanland, let’s take a look at his latest export – Dunkirk.
Dunkirk, might be the only movie coming out of his stable that is historical. There is no alternate universe with it. It happened, period. A period which has forever etched in the dark history of mankind, but this one, is the light at the end of the tunnel. A triumphant tale of SURVIVAL.
The narrative is all about Point of View (POV) and how it overlaps to create a non-linear structure in time and person.
The movie is shot in such a way that it feels like the characters are either strapped to a GoPro or Steadicam throughout the entire movie. The tight-on shots from the character’s POV creates this whole immersive feel to the movie. It is as if Nolan had instructed Hoyte van Hoytema to be as close to its characters so that they could feel his breath.
The entire plot is laid out on three platforms: the Mole (Land/Beach), the Sea and the Sky. The genius lies in how these platform intertwines and connects including its characters. Thus, going back and forth, far and wide.
Action is the movie’s heartland. It leaves us breathless. The sound-engineer in Hans Zimmer has successfully pulled off a David Lynchian. The continuous ticking of the clock, like the factory humming noise of Eraserhead, gives us this eerie feeling of time is running out. The countdown of survival. The rampant violin turns into the sound of danger, with enemy jets gushing out torpedos, bombs and bullets aplenty. All that floats is human spirit against all odds.
As the English Channel gobbles up one destroyer after another, it is the survivors who lives through the treacherous water, swimming from one boat to another. With each passing floater, their lives turn bleaker.
The countless dogfights above a calm channel was the ultimate comparison between human’s indecency and mother nature’s warmth and love. I wished there were natural disasters that took lives and not us humans. At least, we would have maintained our decency.
Mark Rylance takes to the sea, Tom Hardy keeps his eyes at the skies, Fionn, Harry, James and Kenneth cower in the land, the beach, the camouflaging sand. Some meet, while most remain forever separated.
Each and every frame is authentic to say the least. The grandeur lies in its details. Like a finely crafted gem, each stage is set. It is epic, it is grand. But is it a masterpiece? Let’s talk about that now.
I maybe a cinephile, or a novice, but I can’t call Dunkirk a masterpiece. Like I have listed the movies above, Dunkirk is a part of a template. A template explored before. Only this time, the template was used to present a WWII movie. It is a movie carefully crafted to heighten realism.
It felt like the troops on the beach were props carefully orchestrated at every turn when danger were lurking in the skies, dropping bombs on them. The emotions and horror were amiss. THE CHAOS FOR SURVIVAL was missing. No one seemed interested in finding cover. They were simply ducking at the sound of danger.
There was a moment in which the challenges of evacuation was explored. But this was presented through exposition, and not action. How ironic? The whole narrative is set in motion through action. A missed opportunity, I suppose. Action would have provided the necessary intrigue.
The overlapping and nonlinear narrative couldn’t be hidden in plain sight to provide mystique. They could be made out long before the scene played out. At least, on my watch.
Finally, the most important question I ask myself after I watch a movie to call it a Masterpiece. Did the experience remain with me or intrigue me even after viewing it some hours/time ago? If the feeling is luke-warm or nil, then I can’t call it a masterpiece. This is my opinion.
I just can’t call Dunkirk, a masterpiece, because it presented a WWII movie and transported into blockbuster territory, unlike any other movie. I just can’t call Dunkirk, a masterpiece, because it focused on action as the narrative. I just can’t call Dunkirk, a masterpiece, because it provided an immersive viewing experience, like watching a VR movie. I just can’t call Dunkirk, a masterpiece, because it’s sound was forever there in the movie while meshing in the various noises of the machinations and mechanics of its props.
Finally, I just can’t call Dunkirk, a masterpiece, simply because I felt it like an opera orchestrated to provide heightened realism, missing the CHAOS and MADNESS completely.
There isn’t a war without an OUNCE of CHAOS. According to me, the missing ingredient to truly being a MASTERPIECE.