Category Archives: Movie

Dunkirk – A masterpiece? **spoilers ahead**

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.

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The Sea of Trees – A grossly misunderstood film by the Critics (Spoilers Warning)

The Sea of Trees is a marvelous movie by the man – Gus Van Sant, who helmed critical darlings such as Goodwill Hunting, Milk, Elephant and many more.

I was glad to watch the movie before going over to Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB. Otherwise, by being a true social conformist, I would have missed a gem.

What is this movie about?

The movie is about the exploration of relationships and its meanings through a journey within and after-life. The movie is true to our present times.

Matthew McConaughey plays Arthur Brennan who arrives at the Aokigahara Forest also known as the Sea of Trees, located at the base of Mt Fuji in Japan. It is widely regarded that the humans visit this forest to end their life (I am refraining from using the word ‘Suicide’).

What has brought him to this state and what transpires in the Sea of Trees is what this movie is about.

The Movie (Spoilers Ahead)

Arthur is a scientist who now works as a Physics Teacher at a middle school for a paltry annual salary of 20 grands. Arthur’s wife Joan is a functional alcoholic, played by Naomi Watts. She believes that Arthur is not fully realizing his academic prowess and potential to earn a much higher pay-packet. It is her dominant pay cheque that is supporting the family.

In the forest, while Arthur is about to end his life by sipping down a handful of sleeping pills, he hears the cry of a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura, played by the ever-present Ken Watanabe. Takumi is lost in the jungle and he is bleeding from his wrists. Takumi got demoted in his job, and is hating life because it has reduced to bits and pieces in his perfunctory surroundings.

The main cause of Arthur and Joan’s estranged relationship is when we learn that Arthur had an affair with a fellow colleague in his previous job as a scientist at NorthLabs. Arthur and Joan’s marriage is on the rocks, but a moment of reconciliation presents itself when they are shocked to learn that she is suffering from a brain tumor, which has fifty-fifty chance of survival within and upon surgery. Joan despises dying in a hospital where she is surrounded by strangers who are just there to do their job. She wants Arthur to promise her that he would die in a place unlike hers. This is what brings Arthur to the Sea of Trees, a tranquil environment surrounded by nature.

Initially Arthur was disinterested, not wanting to halt his plans. But later, Arthur becomes determined to help Takumi out of the forest, who is sick and badly hurt. While they were finding their way out of the forest, Arthur injures himself multiple times. Once by falling from a rocky cliff, and then by going into a cave which fills with water from a cloud burst. Arthur notices a beautiful flower amidst his dead surrounding. Takumi tells Arthur that as per Japanese mythic, when a spirit passes by, the flower blooms.

Post-surgery, the doctor tells the reconciled couple that the tumor was non-malignant. This brings relief to the couple, who are now ready to move on with their life by burying their past.

While trailing back, Arthur and Takumi takes the clothes from a corpse hanging from a tree. From another corpse lying in a tent, they take its compass, radio, torch, lighter and the clothes. Arthur tries to contact the local authorities, but doesn’t find signal.

During the night, Arthur breaks down when he tellsTakumi that he was so busy finding faults in his marriage that he never cared to know Joan’s favorite book, season or color. Takumi silently sobs while listening to Arthur.

Takumi tells Arthur that their search for the trail that would lead them out of the woods is like the children’s story Hansel & Gretel. He also shares the names of his daughters – Kiiro & Fuyu.

Joan tells Arthur that she would like to spend the remainder of her life with him in their picturesque lake-house. He gleefully agrees.

While getting transferred from the hospital to a nursing home, Joan gets killed in a fatal crash when a pickup truck collides with her ambulance. Arthur goes into a state of shock when he witnesses the horrific accident. He was following Joan’s ambulance while talking to her on the phone. The couple’s last conversation pertained to their favorites. Joan was unable to share the details of her favorite book, color and season.

Takumi becomes gravely ill and is unable to tag along with Arthur. Arthur leaves him near the tent to find help and a way out of the forest. He wraps Takumi with the jacket gifted to him by Joan. He then reaches a location where is able to make contact with the local authorities. When he reaches the entry point to the forest, he is again injured when he trips over a log. The alerted forest guards finds him lying in the woods and rescues him.

During a post-trauma recovery interview, Arthur asks the Counselor about Takumi whereabouts. She tells him that no one entered the forest on that fateful day, other than him. This fact was corroborated by the CCTV footage which is located at the forest’s entrance.

Arthur later learns that Joan’s favorite book was Hansel & Gretel. He was carrying the package with him when he came to the Sea of Trees. The book was gifted to Joan by her relative.

Two weeks later, after Arthur is fully recovered, he trails back into the forest to search for Takumi. He takes special measures to not lose his way in the forest. He reaches the site where he left an ailing Takumi, but he is not there. Instead, he finds the jacket gifted by Joan covering the flower which he found earlier in the forest. He realizes that Takumi was a wandering spirit, who helped him out of the forest.

Back in his school, a student tells Arthur that Takumi’s children names – Kiiro & Fuyu translates to Yellow and Winter. The favorite color and season of Joan.

Why I find this movie to be great?

In the beginning, when Arthur arrives at the Forest, he is already dead. The act of gulping down the sleeping pills was a mere metaphor of his present state. Once he is out of the Forest, he attains after-life. The old Arthur has died in the forest. This change is reflected in his appearance, when he comes to the forest, he is unshaven, disillusioned, and doesn’t eat the food offered by the flight attendant. But when he attains after-life, he is clean-shaven, has come to terms with Joan’s death, and eats the breakfast offered by the flight attendant.

The movie captures the challenges faced by most present day marriages – money trouble and infidelity. It is the smaller details like the favorite color, the favorite season or the favorite book of a partner, we often tend to miss because we are so caught up with our lives. Marriage of today is the vox populi to avoid social alienation, even though the persons married are leading distant lives while sharing the same bed.

Loss brings us closer to what we dearly miss. It is Joan who realized that Arthur has been silently going through the motions of their marriage, even when she meted out harsh treatments to him. By accepting her harsh treatment and not giving up on their marriage, it was his way of repenting for his infidel past. He didn’t leave her side when she faced a life-threatening situation. It was the ideal opportunity for him to break away from the marriage, but it was his love for her that held him back. When Joan realized this, she forgave him and promised to be with him in life and after-life. Through Takumi, she stopped Arthur from taking his own life.

Arthur misunderstood Joan when she wanted him to promise that he wouldn’t die like her in a hospital, a place where strangers are there to do their job. A place so functional that everyone is going through their motions, even life and death. She wanted him to die in the company of their memories – The Lake House, and not the Sea of Trees.

The Sea of Trees was a portal between life and death, where she was able to communicate with Arthur in her after-life, through a fellow spirit – Takumi. When Arthur was sharing his story of Joan, Takumi felt her pain, and thus, he was crying profusely, while Arthur broke down as well.

The Sea of Trees is holding up a mirror and showing us that just like Arthur’s state when he came into the forest, the trees in the forest are slowly going to fade away as we attain further industry. In a few decades, there will no longer be a Sea of Trees only patches of green. But still, we have to move on. The human nature, the law of the land. Like Arthur finally moved on after Joan’s death.

Why I don’t agree with the critics?

Most of them have written that the movie is formulaic, and the plot is jarring, with no build-up to the twists. But hey, so is life. We don’t expect our life to throw up surprises. It is the smaller details that we miss every day. That is what the movie represents and what the critics missed.