Christopher Nolan Teases Unique Structure for ‘Dunkirk’

     March 1, 2017


We’re now in the thick of 2017 (it’s March already??), which means we’re that much closer to a new film from Christopher Nolan. The accomplished filmmaker turns his talents to historical drama territory for the first time in his career with Dunkirk, a film described as an “action-thriller” that aims to chronicle the pivotal World War II evacuation.

But when Dunkirk arrives it won’t just be the subject matter that’s new territory for Nolan, but the narrative. Nolan has always been a fan of non-linear storytelling, and indeed his first few films relied on this quite heavily as a means of unraveling information in engaging manners (see: Memento, The Prestige, Batman Begins). With Dunkirk however, it’s not the lineation of the storytelling that Nolan is shaking up, but the point of view.


Image via Warner Bros.

In an interview with Premiere (via The Playlist), Nolan revealed that Dunkirk is a triptych:

“The film is told from three points of view. The air (planes), the land (on the beach) and the sea (the evacuation by the navy). For the soldiers embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities,” Nolan said (via Google translation). “On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; And if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel. To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; Even if the story, once again, is very simple.”

That’s a fascinating take on the material, and it explains why the film’s large cast seems to be spread out. The land portion is carried by mostly newcomers, including the film’s main protagonist Fionn Whitehead and pop singer turned actor Harry Styles; the air portion is headed up by Tom Hardy; and the sea part of the film looks to be carried by Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance.


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