Everything We Know About ‘Dunkirk’
By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
From the director of the Dark Knight trilogy, the mind-bending Inception, and the time-twisting Interstellar, comes a true tale of survival during WWII. This summer, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will tell a story yet unseen on the big screen. Keep reading to find out what we know about the project!
Dunkirk could be considered a passion project, an idea Christopher Nolan had for some time, but felt unprepared and ill-equipped to tell until recently. In September 2015, Warner Bros. announced the film, which was written, directed, and produced by Nolan (with Emma Thomas as the other producer). Nolan brought along familiar names from past projects to Dunkirk, such as Hans Zimmer as composer, Interstellar’s Hoyte van Hoytema as cinematographer, and some on-screen talent we’ve seen before. (We’ll get to that later.) Principal photography for Dunkirk began in May 2016 in Dunkirk, France, where the actual events took place. Filming continued in locations in the Netherlands, U.K., and U.S. and in December 2016, the first full length trailer was finally released. More recent footage of the film shown at CinemaCon this year brought the audience to a standing ovation.
If you’re wondering if Dunkirk will have thoughtful twists and surprises, as can often be expected from a Nolan production, you might be interested to learn that this particular movie is based on true events from WWII. Spoilers can be found in the history books. But if the Dunkirk evacuation doesn’t sound familiar or is a distant memory from history classes of long ago, the movie will be the reminder you need. While it may be “a story British people are raised on,” according to Nolan, it hasn’t been covered in any large scale film yet. In 1940, almost 400,000 Allied soldiers from Britain, Belgium, Canada, and France found themselves trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk by an advancing Germany military (after the Fall of France), with the water at their backs. A “colossal military disaster,” Winston Churchill called the event, but hope was found as nearly 340,000 of those soldiers were successfully evacuated in Operation Dynamo between May 20 and June 4, using only about 800 boats (which even included civilian vessels).
Dunkirk was a story worth telling, according to Nolan. “This is an essential moment in the history of the Second World War. If this evacuation had not been a success, Great Britain would have been obliged to capitulate.” It sounds like Dunkirk might be the next Saving Private Ryan, but Nolan has been explicit that it is not a war movie. It is “a survival story, and first and foremost a suspense film.” Receiving a PG-13 rating, (which the director is “comfortable working with totally”), it would seem that bloody aspects of combat and war will not be central to the story. The film isn’t really about the war or even the politics surrounding it; it was created to be about the people, the men on the beach praying for salvation. Nolan has been adamant that he wanted to produce a visceral experience, avoiding even the past or future of the character’s involved, keeping viewers in the moment. The movie reportedly has little dialogue. Nolan said, “I did not want to go through the dialogue, tell the story of my characters… The only question I was interested in was will they get out of it?”
The story seems pretty straight forward, but don’t let the simplicity of it make you complacent. Dunkirk is still a Christopher Nolan film. The movie will be a triptych, a story told from three perspectives – air (through planes and their pilots), sea (including civilian and naval rescue ships), and land (soldiers trapped on the beach). While the soldiers on the beach were there for as long as a week, those on the boats could measure their time in the event in a day, and the pilots in the air could measure their time in hours. So in typical Nolan fashion, the simple story becomes a bit more complicated. He reported, “To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure.”
Also in typical Nolan fashion is a large-scale production, designed to be a cinematic event. He reportedly used approximately 6,000 extras during the filming and avoided CGI in some cases, favoring cardboard cut-outs of soldiers and vehicles to make forces realistically look larger. Nolan even reconditioned actual warships to use for filming, as well as restoring a plane or two (although the rumors that he was given $5 million to fix and then destroy a plane have been debunked).
The cast of the upcoming film includes familiar names and faces, many from previous projects by Christopher Nolan. Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) will be an RAF pilot, covering part of the air perspective of the film. Mark Rylance will play one of many civilian seaman rescuing the trapped military, in particular pulling Cillian Murphy’s (The Dark Knight trilogy) character from the water (only to return him to France). The brilliant Kenneth Branagh will play a role in the film, along with actors James D’Arcy (Agent Carter), Jack Lowden, Barry Keaghan, Aneurin Barnard, and Tom Glynn-Carney. One Direction’s Harry Styles will making his movie acting debut as Alex, a soldier on the beaches of Dunkirk, along with fresh-faced Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a British private, who is actually the lead of the film. (Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with Whitehead. Nolan reportedly cast relatively unknown actors as soldiers on the beach because history proved that the real soldiers were young and inexperienced as well.)
The highly anticipated Dunkirk is slated for release on July 21, 2017, with some select IMAX theaters for 70mm will be able to premiere as early as July 19. If you saw Rogue One in IMAX or the more recent Kong: Skull Island, you were likely privy to a 7 minute movie exclusive prologue of Dunkirk. If you missed that or are looking for more information elsewhere, you can get further updates from the movie’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Dunkirkmovie) and the official Twitter account for the movie (@dunkirkmovie), has been sharing photos and interesting facts about the real-life evacuation.