A theme throughout all of Christopher Nolan's films is time. In Memento, the entire movie is told backwards. In Inception, the story is layered within three different realities, with each reality experiencing time at different rates. In Interstellar, time is warped depending on which planet you're on. It's no surprise that in Dunkirk, Nolan latest film continues to grapple with this concept of time and cinema.
After watching a really interesting interview Christopher Nolan did with YouTuber Jack Howard, I began thinking about how Nolan uses time throughout his films and how it really affects the telling, and ultimately the experience, of a story. Cinema inherently manipulates time, as Howard points out. You don't see a what happens to the characters in-between edits. Time passes through cuts, montages, and transitions, and the audience just understands that we are in a new time and space. But what happens when time begins to be manipulated and convoluted? This is where Nolan begins to play, where he begins to push the boundaries of cinema.
In Dunkirk, the story is told from three different perspectives - the land, the sea, and the air. Each perspective runs at a different rate of time - one week, one day, one hour. Nolan introduces this concept to the audience via text on the screen - he tells you the length of time that each of these "rescue" missions take - but it isn't until night turns to day and then back to night then back to day that you begin to understand that the time of the film is being manipulated.
It's very disorientating, this method of storytelling. You never quite know what's happening when or what the outcome will be. I found this to be the most intriguing and engaging aspect of this movie. Nolan creates tension and suspense by intermixing these threads, but he is also forcing his audience to stay engaged in order to keep up. He turned, what could have been a dry historical retelling or a substanceless blockbuster, into a smart, engaging thriller just simply by playing with time.
Nolan's experimental use of time in his film is what makes his films so great, and so memorable. He takes this seemingly basic cinematic technique and molds it, stretches it, maneuvers it into something incredible. Christopher Nolan is my inspiration this week, and all weeks for that matter, because his blockbusters aren't insipid and unoriginal like most big budget pictures today. Rather he makes films that are smart, engaging, and creative. He experiments with his films, he tests the limits and pushes the boundaries of what cinema is capable of. He's a true artist, bringing back to life the joy of clever and inspiring cinema.
Related: Dunkirk | Review
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