Dunkirk wasn’t really your average war film. Yes, it had the standard conventions of war — soldiers, explosions, gunshots, and the like — but the way the story was told was altogether different. But what made the story itself less of a war picture, and something completely different?
Speaking with Collider, Nolan discussed that very subject, and to illustrate his point, he brings up one of the greatest war films ever made, Saving Private Ryan.
“Anytime you’re working in such a familiar genre, you look to the touchstones of it. You look to the things that really succeeded, in a particular way, for how they’re going to inform what you do. In the case of Saving Private Ryan, Steven loaned me his 35mm print of it, which was absolutely beautiful, and that film has lost none of its visceral power. It’s really extraordinary, but it had the wrong kind of intensity for telling this story. It clarified, in my mind, that I had to view this not so much as a war film, but as a suspense thriller, and have an unseen enemy and a type of tension with the language of suspense, whereby you can’t take your eyes off the screen. What Steven did so brilliantly in Saving Private Ryan was use the language of horror, which is one whereby you’re looking away from the screen. It’s a different thing, but it’s very useful to be able to talk to filmmaker. I mostly spoke to Steven about Jaws and about shooting on the water because I’d never done that, and his advice was, ‘Don’t.”
Of course, that piece of advice Nolan ignored altogether, as evidenced by the finished product, but his approach to the film was undoubtedly different. It was very much all about survival, and Nolan ended up using all the techniques he’d learned about filmmaking throughout his career to create a wholly unique and visceral theater-going experience.
Do you agree with Nolan that Dunkirk isn’t a war film? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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