Last year’s Dunkirk is considered by many as one of the best war films ever made. The film, that has a huge ensemble cast of Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles, Fionn Whitehead and others, released to almost universal critical acclaim and was successful at the box office. It has also been counted as one of the frontrunners in the race to the Oscars. Christopher Nolan, the renowned director of Dunkirk and many other blockbusters, spoke to a press meet about the film and why he consulted Steven Speilberg, whose war film Saving Private Ryan Nolan admires, even though Nolan does not consider Dunkirk as a purely war film.
“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.””
Dunkirk has been nominated in 8 categories in Academy Awards 2018, and is the film with second-most nominations behind only Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Nolan also expressed his opinion about the other films that have dominated the awards season.
He said, “I had the pleasure, a couple of years ago, of doing a Q&A with Guillermo, so I got to go back and look at all of his films. When I saw The Shape of Water, I knew that this was one of the ones that came straight from the heart and is informed by his personal experience in ways that I have no idea what they are, but I know that they’re utterly sincere. He’s made several other films like that, and this was a new one of those. I found that very, very moving. Jordan’s movie (Get Out), I had no idea what I was going to see. I hadn’t read anything about it, other than that it was great. And how often do you get the experience of seeing something that you have no idea where it’s going to go, and then it goes somewhere far more interesting than you ever imagined.”
Nolan continued, “Greta’s movie (Lady Bird), I went to see and it felt familiar, in all the right ways. It felt comfortable. It felt like a part of life that I knew and had experienced. It felt like memory. And then, in talking to my wife about it, I realized that that’s not a relationship you ever see in films, but it feels like you’ve seen it before. It’s so complete, in the telling. It taps into things, particularly those of us who have 16-year-old daughters, as I do, who are into theater. It’s very precise. And Paul’s movie (Phantom Thread), my wife and I made the strange decision to take our kids to go see it and, ever since, every time I do anything vaguely what they would call dictatorial, it’s, “Oh, Mr. Woodcock, are you a spy? Get out your gun. Do you have a gun?” I’ve been hearing that for weeks. And every time Emma cooks mushrooms now, there are huge hysterics. I’ve seen the film a couple of times, and seeing it in 70mm was such a pleasure. The thing I found out about it, as it opened up on its photo-chemical version, is that I was suddenly very aware of how the use of sound in the film is extraordinary. It’s simple and gritty, and then extremely loud, like with the spreading of the butter on the toast. You feel it, up and down your spine. It’s amazing. All of the films are just incredible work, and I’m very proud to be amongst these guys.”