Do you know what war movies and Eurovision have in common? More than you may think at first:
- They both rework national myths and cliches into epic battles
- They are both politically and patriotically charged, where the gritty ones may go down in cinema history but the campier ones make pop-culture history
- They never leave you indifferent- you may hate or love them but you always feel invested
The States have their fair share of contribution with memorable entries like Spielberg‘s approachable war movies (how they sway man’s moral compass), then you have more abstract moral parables like Kubrick‘s movies and then there is Michael Bay‘s campy Pearl Harbor. If this was Eurovision, the odds would have been split between Spielberg and Bay. Just to clarify, in case you wondered.
Even though the UK hasn’t had much luck with Eurovision lately or Europe for that matter, it will soon have another memorable entry in the war movie genre, thanks to Christopher Nolan‘s new movie Dunkirk. Now, war movies are often mythmaking movies and Operation Dynamo, the World War II evacuation of the British soldiers, which took place during June-May 1940s involves 3 important aspects, wich made up the myth in the first place.
First, it is considered to be UK’s ‘victory, snatched from the jaws of defeat’ action. Second, Churchill presented the UK Navy in a romantic and patriotic light, as people who ‘never surrender’, a far cry from the more realistic portrayal of the shell-shocked and tired young men at war, depicted in Joe Wright‘s Atonement. Thirdly, the media focused on the story of a few civilian boats, which also took part in the rescue mission.
So, where does Christopher Nolan movie stand? Much like Interstellar, which mixed Kip Thorne‘s academic work on wormholes with classic sci-fi movies, Dunkirk mixes fact with fiction. Judging from the theatrical trailer, it pays homage to the classic 1958 Dunkirk movie, which focuses both on the British troops and the civilian rescue boats. Nolan’s movie, so far, promises to combine all sides to the UK Dunkirk story:
- You see the stranded British troops, like Fionn Whitehead‘s lead Tommy, Harry Styles‘ Alex and the rest pitted in a thriller-like manner against all elements of nature- water (the sea), air and fire (the enemy fire), land (the French flat region of Dunkirk, which offers no cover, so you are essentially in for a canned hunt)
- You see the civilian rescue boats in a typical father-son story, as Barry Keoghan‘s George joins his father, played by Mark Rylance as they embark to rescue their fellow citizens. Cillian Murphy is also on board as a shell-shocked soldier.
- You see the Navy, in the faces of Tom Hardy‘s pilot and Kenneth Branagh in full naval uniform, as they try to protect the soldiers on the ground and buy them time.
Yet, it also looks like Nolan‘s story. Christopher Nolan is known for his outstanding visuals and his trailers show just enough to sell the movie. The theatrical trailer further builds on a claustrophobic atmosphere set in the teaser, which showed a crowd of soldiers packed like cattle, ready to get bombed at any given moment. You can’t see a single shot of the enemy but the sense of danger and paranoia is nearly omnipresent.
The reason we need to pay attention to Christopher Nolan’s visuals is that they are part and parcel of his storytelling techniques. He is a visionary, in the truest sense, as his movies experiment with film and IMAX to push cinema in new directions and take audiences on an unparalleled cinematic experience. Cinematic, not documentary, as we were misled to believe in the case of Interstellar.
While Iñárritu recently used technology to make a political statement, Christopher Nolan is more careful when it comes to ideology, which has always been at the core of war movies, depicted in classics like Casablanca (1942) and mocked in clever parodies like Tropic Thunder (2008). Nolan’s influence has been very prominent in the superhero genre the last couple of years and it has already been translated in the war movie genre with Russia’s 2013 blockbuster Stalingrad (Fedor Bondarchuk).
The World War II movie uses IMAX to give the traditional Russian war movies a new twist for younger audiences and reinforce war ideology. Dunkirk, meanwhile, is marketed as a survival story, not a war movie. The use of IMAX seems to do just that- twist time and space to bring the war home or at your local cinema. The same can be said about the interactive Eurovision stage, which can invite audiences to cheer for a feel-good song and later engage them with an intimate ballad performance. Make sure to catch Dunkirk in cinemas worldwide as Nolan‘s latest will premiere in July!
Disclaimer: All rights belong to their respective companies and owners. All media is used for educational purposes only. This language isn’t even my native language.
To Paul Bullock- the amazing journalist and inspiring cinephile