Christopher Nolan on ‘Dunkirk’, His War Film That Is More “a Story of Survival”

     March 30, 2017


In a packed movie release schedule chock full of comic book adaptations, massive franchise installments, reboots, remakes, and reimaginings, let’s take care not to lose track of Christopher Nolan‘s newest original film, Dunkirk. The World War II-era film follows Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire, Canada, and France who are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle, but as Nolan says in a new interview, Dunkirk is less a war film than a survival film.

In chatting with Fandango, Nolan spoke at length about the harrowing story of Dunkirk, his ambitious use of IMAX cameras during production, and the film’s stunning visual storytelling. Oh, and that rumor about him crashing a vintage, World War II-era plane? “Not true. I think the reason that rumor developed was because we did a lot with real planes,” Nolan clarifies.


Image via Warner Bros.

He also went on to explain why this story, of all stories, was the one he chose to tackle for his net film:

It’s one of the great human stories, and it’s one of the most suspenseful situations that I had ever heard of in my life. You have 400,000 men – the entire British army – trapped on the beach at Dunkirk. Their backs to the sea, home is only 26 miles away and it’s impossible to get to. The enemy is closing in, and there’s a choice between annihilation and surrender. I just think it’s the more extraordinarily suspenseful situation. That, I think, speaks to a lot of things that I am interested in with film.

We previously reported that a substantial amount of Dunkirk would be shot with IMAX cameras, but Nolan goes into a little more detail about just how much here:

Really, I think Dunkirk represents the culmination of all of these experiences we’ve had over the years [with IMAX]. How to work with that format, and how to really try to give the audience the most visceral experiential two hours that they can hope for … There’s absolutely more IMAX [than we’ve ever done]. The entire film is large format film photography, and I’ve never done that before. Very few people have ever done that before, and no one has ever shot as much IMAX as we’re doing. Most of the film is IMAX. With every film we’ve learned more and more how to maximize our ability to use those cameras, and we found ways to get those cameras into very unusual places for a camera that size, but the image quality speaks for itself. I think it’s going to be an extremely exciting presentation, particularly in those IMAX theaters.


Image via Warner Bros.

While historians and history buffs alike will know the ins and outs of Dunkirk, Nolan hopes to bring that history to life with his movie:

I think people who know the story of Dunkirk, in particular, may be surprised by the intensity of the experience. It’s a very suspenseful story and we really try to do justice to that. The pacing is relentless, and the story and action scenes are extraordinarily intense. I think the lean, stripped-down nature of that, and how fast it moves, and what it puts you through in this short space of time… I think it has a different rhythm that I’ve worked in before.

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