Dunkirk General Information/Discussion

The 2017 World War II thriller about the evacuation of British and Allied troops from Dunkirk beach.
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So the Premier article begins :

The pop demiurge, inventor of crazy concepts, who reigns on global entertainment for ten years, is back. But this time, Nolan is naked : without his magic tricks or his theoretical scrolls. Farewell the world of dreams of Inception, the upside down editing of Memento or the black holes of Interstellar. Dunkirk tells the story of a handful of routed soldiers (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles ...) stuck on a beach, between the Channel's gray and angry sea and the Germans who fire. A real, brutal, anxiety-provoking and authentic war film. Really ?

Naturally, as always with him, it's a little more complicated than that ... "I guarantee you there's no SF," he laughs, welcoming us into the editing room. For its hardcore fans who rewatch frame by frame the two available trailers, to see when the film can twist. No: "Dunkerque will be faithful to events, the reality of history and the reality of places. "

Perhaps this is where the most "Nolanian" aspect of the project nests. Some people still wonder if, at the end of the dream of Inception, the spinning top continues or not to turn. The same is true for the Operation Dynamo (code name of the evacuation of May 1940). For some people, Dunkirk's rescue was a victory (340,000 soldiers saved while Churchill was expected ten times less); For others, it was a terrible humiliation ("War is not won with evacuations," declared the same Churchill). This is this weird episode of the phoney war that Nolan chose to tell through the fate of aviators, sailors, soldiers and civilians. A story full of ambiguity, ideal to play with the genre. There's always been in this man a desire desire to refuse the constraints of narrative logic, to explode into a thousand pieces the linearity of storytelling. Whatever the genre he confronts, his cinema is based on an art of rhythm and editing that allows him to deploy his incredible immersive mechanics. And that's what we witness when we get into the editing room at Warner Studios. We see Nolan at work. We see it deconstruct a plan, subtly modify a sound to boost an image and make it indelible (his sense of frame is intact), all with a virtuosity of a killer who knows as well mix formats (prologue mixing 70 mm and IMAX is a visual madness) that learn his job to the most experienced sound engineer. It is this moment that he chose to welcome us and lift the veil (In Premier exclusivity ...) on Dunkirk.
Last edited by YFR3 on March 1st, 2017, 2:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Wow, great article... thanks for the translations!

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The first, second and last photos look new to me. In the first, I don't remember a Nolan photo that totally hid who he was walking with. In the second, I do not remember a photo with the distant fog(?) looking like a pristine continuation of the sand. The last photo looks totally unfamiliar - was that scaffolding? Framework for a piece of sinking/sunken ship? Framework for stuff outside the Kursaal?

AND Thanks for human translation YFR3!

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Great! Thanks YFR3

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I like what I'm hearing from Nolan. Sounds like Dunkirk will be drastically different than Saving private Ryan.

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PREMIERE : I was very surprised to see how accurate you were in sound mixing. Can you explain what you were doing?

NOLAN: It's pretty simple in reality. In the room, the editor on the left is dealing with the music of the film. The other on the right the sound effects. And at this stage, we ensure the balance, the mix between these two flows. It’s a very subtle process, but when we add these two elements (music and effects), working on hundreds of sound details, we finally define the tone and cohesion of the film.

PREMIERE : I saw you asking for the sound of a bomb to begin a quarter of a second before, or to play a little up the clacking of the boots or the rustle of the uniforms of the soldiers on the beach ...

NOLAN : It totally changes the spirit and the energy of a scene. And thus your emotions, what you feel when you’re watching the movie. The aim with Dunkirk is to try to recreate the primitive feeling of terror that struck the soldiers stuck on the beach. And sound is an essential element that make people feel the perceptions of those who were trapped when the bombs fell from the sky.

PREMIERE : When I discovered the prologue and the few minutes you worked on, I was struck by the very concrete and factual aspect of the film. The characters are defined by their gestures, their costumes and their sounds. They are reduced to nothing or not much.

NOLAN : When I made my research on the period, I realized that the soldiers in Dunkirk were lost. When you read the war accounts, they always tell the horror of a situation. But the accounts of the battle of Dunkirk insist on something else : what prevails, it is not horror, it is impossibility, paradox, misunderstanding. In May 1940, the situation on this beach was Kafkaesque. I compare this to the ultimate bureaucratic nightmare. There are huge queues that stretch out and no one to tell you what to do, where to go, to whom to address ... Nothing to do with the horror of the landing. The feeling that dominated was frustration.

PREMIERE : Frustration ?

NOLAN : Yes, because it was a very simple situation : the beach where the soldiers were stuck, the sea and the house ("home") just opposite. And the Germans were bombing. The most frightening thing for the people on the mole was to remain on this dam for embark on a ship. Days and days to wait, not knowing if there would be a boat at the end. And once they were on that structure and the bombs fell, no more way to escape. The (East) mole is what immediately fascinated me in this story. I had never heard of this pier. A kilometer long that advances into the sea. 2.5 meters wide. And the boats came along this pontoon. The men tried to put ladders but the tide was so strong that it was very complicated. The story of the people who stayed on the beach is scary.

Last edited by YFR3 on March 1st, 2017, 2:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PREMIERE : How to transcribe this into a movie ?

NOLAN : This is the question that I immediately asked to myself: "How to make it feel ? The graphic description was not very interesting. I preferred to make a sensory, almost experimental movie. Without dialogue. The soldiers have no history - at least I don’t tell it. It’s a movie that aims to experience the experience of these characters from the inside. Their fear, their anxiety, their anguish.

PREMIERE : When I left the screening of the prologue, two people who accompanied me mentioned Saving Private Ryan.

NOLAN : Hmmm ... And?

PREMIERE : Well, I get the impression that the comparison is not necessarily so obvious. There was nothing visceral in what I saw ...

NOLAN : This is not what I was trying to do actually. Steven Spielberg's movie is a long nightmare, it conveys an anxiety that has nothing to do with frustration or failure logic. It's a biological fear. Ryan is a film about the body, blood, fear of being dismembered. Fear is physical. Steven was able to create a visceral intensity of the experience of war. Dunkirk doesn’t play in the same category. It’s linked to our sensibilities, but it’s also due to the reality that is told. Steven created the ultimate version of war chaos. I wasn’t on this register …

Last edited by YFR3 on March 1st, 2017, 2:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PREMIERE : How would you define your approach in this movie?

NOLAN : It’s a movie with suspense and a race against time. The fear on which I play is more ... intellectual.

PREMIERE : Dunkirk seems to accentuate a break in your filmography. It’s a vintage movie, free of any high concept, of your magician’s "tricks". It’s like you’re moving back to a classic and more linear cinema. Despite its SF pitch, Interstellar was already moving in that direction, but this time it seems even more radical.

NOLAN : Yes and no. The film is focused on the present, the immediacy of situations. Less on time. I play on different levels of temporality, but for different reasons. Interstellar sought to understand the effect of time on emotions and on human experience. Here, I try to transcribe the present time of the experience. Emotions are compressed. It looks simpler or more linear, but the structure of the movie remains complex.

PREMIERE : What do you mean ?

NOLAN : I wanted Dunkirk to be told from three points of view. The air, the land and the sea. For the people embarked in the evacuation of May 1940, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some soldiers stayed for a week on the beach. On the boats, the evacuations lasted a maximum day and if you were flying to Dunkirk from the UK, the Spitfires (fighter planes used by RAF pilots during the war) carried one hour of fuel. To mix these different visions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence a complicated structure, even if the arc is very simple.

PREMIERE : You are telling me that Dunkirk is Inception in May 1940?

NOLAN : (Laughter.) No, because there, I wanted the viewer to live this experience not to rebuild it. It's no longer a puzzle.


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PREMIERE : Unlike Interstellar or Inception, here we know the end of the story ...

NOLAN : Dunkirk tells a series of paradoxical situations. The most obvious, the one that organizes the movie is actually known, but not necessarily by everyone. The army is stuck on this beach and must cross the Channel to go home. Within this global structure, there are others : will a soldier succeed in joining the mole? Will the pilot be able to carry out his mission? And progressively, the movie focuses on suspense sequences that are reduced to a very human dimension. It ‘s a film where the empathy for the characters has nothing to do with their destinies or their stories. My different heroes have no backstories ... The problem is not who they are, or who they claim to be. The only question that counts is : will they get by? Will they be killed by the next bomb while trying to join the mole? Will they manage to avoid being crushed by a boat while crossing ?

PREMIERE : Very Hitchcockian as an idea.

NOLAN : Totally. Hitchcock managed to make you tremble for a character ,no matter what moral judgment you might have. We are interested in the success or failure of an action at the moment it occurs. Nothing else. Watch « Psycho » : Anthony Perkins puts the body in the trunk and leaves with the car. It rolls and then starts to worry. Will he be caught? And this anguish, we feel it with him! At that moment, you almost forgot that it's the bastard of the story, that he just killed a woman ... It is the strength of Hitchcock’s cinema : to live the intensity of the present moment , Without having to explain what happened before. It is the principle of Dunkirk, to find the immediate intensity. I did not make a war movie, but a survival, whose energy is controlled by suspense.

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PREMIERE : What is the impulse that makes you want to make a movie? Is it an image ? A sound ? A story ? For Dunkirk, how did this happen ?

NOLAN : Emma (Thomas, his wife and producer) advised me to read a book on the evacuation of May 1940 telling me that there was perhaps a subject for me. I found it very interesting, but it was not immediate. Gradually, a vision began to pursue me. That of the mole of which I spoke. These soldiers massed on the jetty. I saw in it an elemental image. That's why we put it in the first trailer. It’s an image that I had never seen before and which possesses a metaphorical force, allegorical if you will, that resonates immediately into the unconscious. It has become like a nightmare - you know, these dreams where you imagine running to flee a danger but you can’t move, you can’t run away. This is what I found in all the reports I read about Dunkirk. It's like ... when you're in an airport, you stand in line and the flight is suddenly canceled. As trivial as the comparison may seem, when one experiences this kind of experience, it is extraordinarily frustrating. I was telling you about Kafka : it was from there he should have drawn the source of his novels and especially « The Trial ». The paradox of bureaucracy, the reality that escapes. The mole is that. Knowing the end of the episode of Dunkirk (the success of the evacuation), when I felt the nightmare that these soldiers could have lived, the idea of linking this frustration and the outcome of the operation, All this created a symbolic power that could make a movie.

PREMIERE : It always starts with an image?

NOLAN : No. For « Interstellar », it was the script. The story imagined by my brother Jonathan. Less the script actually than an idea that was germ in the first part : the relationship between father and child and the idea of studying this relationship on a cosmic scale. For « Memento », it was the concept of staging ... It depends.

PREMIERE : You were quoting Hitchcock. I wondered to what extent Dunkirk interacts with classical cinema and especially the great British war movies?

NOLAN : I rewatched some war movies of the 40s and 50s because of the subject, but from a production point of view, I spent a lot of time seeing silent films. For crowd scenes. The way the extras move, evolve, the way the space is staged, the points of view used. For the storytelling of « Dunkirk » rewatching « Intolerance », « Sunrise » or even « Greed » was a very stimulating exercise. I was looking for works on immense scales. What fascinates me about silent films is the way they use geography, the space to tell the story.


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