Don't be put off by my title: there is nothing sinister here chaps!! Indeed, with my general 'bloggings' I shall attempt to delight and astound you out of the mundaneness of a middle class suburban life, into the magical world of the Sophster!! Mystical...

Friday, 4 August 2017

Sophie's Film Choice #18: DUNKIRK

Get ready for 2 hours of very shallow breathing.

Last night I had the pleasure (or should I say panic) of seeing Christopher Nolan's latest film, Dunkirk, at the Barbican Centre. Incidentally, I would recommend the venue, especially if you are 25 or under (I'm still clinging on to those last few months of being officially 'young'). The sound was delivered in hair raising clarity, which I was told was a pre-requisite of experiencing this film.

I'd heard a little bit about Dunkirk prior to my outing, and despite the lovely Pizza Express salad beforehand, I knew this wouldn't be a normal Thursday night throwaway jaunt.

Heralded by Churchill as a 'miracle of deliverance', Nolan's latest piece (partially) details the evacuation of British soldiers who were cornered on Dunkirk beach by the enemy forces in 1940. In a much simpler plot structure than some of his other work (I'll be the first to admit that I still don't quite know what happened in Inception), the film follows three strings: the land (over one week), the sea (over a day) and the air (over an hour).

The oxygen supply I needed at the beginning of the film 
If you're expecting huge war epic battle scenes, or sentimentalised, tear-jerking slow motion sequences, then don't hold your breath. You'll need to save that breath for the duration of the film anyway.  From the very opening sequence (the land), we're immediately transported into the heart of Dunkirk, urgently fleeing from the prospect of immediate death and surrounded by gunfire. And this sets the tone for the next two hours, accentuated by Hans Zimmer's constantly ticking, rumbling soundtrack.

Whether on land, sea or air, every moment of this film is charged with urgency, doom and the fight for survival. The spitfire pilots isolated in their cabins and trying to protect those down below are running out of fuel by the second; the sea rescuer civilians are completely unarmed and unprepared for the brutality of what they are about to face; the boys stranded on the beach, only teenagers, are constant prey for the enemy.

No 1D reunion any time soon, then
The land sequences, constantly haunted by the threat of bombers overheard, affected me the most. Following a group of young soldiers who look like they should still be in school, we invest in every attempt at returning them home to safety. With every set back and near-death experience (and there are many) my heart creeped just a little higher into my throat. Imagine that scene in Titanic when you think Leo is going to be trapped on the lower deck and drown: but the same tension is in EVERY SCENE.

The sea strand is subtly played and heart-wrenching in a very unexpected way, whilst the air perspective lets us see how the chaos down below interplays, even giving us a glimpse into the future due to the clever time shifts. Only in the final moments of the film, when the soundtrack turns to silence, do you quite realise the sensations it has provoked. You might need a drink afterwards.

"Cabin Fever, AHH" "..." 
Whilst most of us will never even be able to imagine the horror and fear of being trapped on Dunkirk beach, this film is the closest thing I've seen to conveying the persistent threat and panic that would have ruled every minute of your day and night. Nolan manages to capture the essence of a nightmare, when you feel the threat of danger whilst only half remembering that it isn't literally going on around you.

A nuanced and sensitive film, with no gore, gratuitous speeches, CGI or over-acting, Dunkirk is a refreshing and surprising take on the war film genre and I would highly recommend.

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