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Watch: "Dunkirk In Real Time"

We experience life in a nonlinear fashion. I'll explain: Our day-to-day actions happen continuously and presently but in our heads we're constantly recalling memories, thoughts, daydreams and other such visual elements that disrupt the straightforward narratives that are our lives. Director Christopher Nolan must surely understand and be enthused by the way our brains use flashbacks and imagination to help us make sense of the world. It's this nonlinear experience that has been the backbone of Nolan's filmography, especially since his breakout hit Memento, which told its story backwards. Nolan's period piece The Prestige jumped all over its timeline as a trick mimicking the 'now you see me, now you don't' rhetoric of its magician antiheroes. And in his masterpiece Interstellar, Nolan created a mythos around space and time travel to help us further understand this nonlinear existence. When it comes to nonlinear storytelling, Nolan and his team of editors have been on the cutting edge.

Which leads me to a big problem I had with his latest film Dunkirk, a bloodless war film that jumped around three storylines each operating on different lengths of time; one story lasted a week, another during an entire day and the third over the course of an hour. Here is a case where a filmmaker should've abandoned his signature nonlinear flair (or maybe it is an obsession) and just told the story straight. Even though Dunkirk is one of the shorter Nolan films in terms of running time, it feels like it goes on for a frustrating forever. The way it jumps around timelines -- and therefore perspectives -- becomes more distracting than it does illuminating. By operating outside of a beginning-to-end timeline told in real time, a lot of the drama, power and excitement gets lost in all the post production pyrotechnics (and not to mention the blow-your-fucking-ears-out sound design).

As an experiment, I took a few sequences from Dunkirk and employed Mike Figgis' design from his groundbreaking 2000 film Timecode. In Timecode, Figgis told four 93-minute stories in four simultaneous one-shot takes and had them all play in frames next to each other onscreen. Therefore, I tried to emulate a similar sort of symphony that Timecode achieves, where certain perspectives eventually cross paths, leading us to see how specific moments play out and how they affect different people.

How does Dunkirk in Real Time play for you? Does it achieve more of a visceral impact? Do you feel like you're actually watching a film where something is really at stake? Leave your comments below. 

Comments

  1. I enjoyed the movie as it was aside from the fact that I saw it in Omnimax which, for me, did not add to the experience and if anything was distracting. Letterbox is my preferred aspect.
    But it was loud..

    ReplyDelete

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