Dunkirk is a $150 million experimental film in the guise of a blockbuster.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan has made a career out of crafting smarter-than-average crowd-pleasing movies that function as puzzles as well as dramatic stories.
But Dunkirk is something different when it comes to subject matter. It’s not a sci-fi, mind-bending adventure like Interstellar or Inception. It’s not a grounded take on a superhero like his Batman films. It’s not a non-linear character-driven drama like Memento or The Prestige (my personal favorite).
Nolan has historically locked down his film sets tight in an effort to prevent spoilers from leaking out. But with Dunkirk, a film based on the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British soldiers from France at the beginning of World War II, the story is already known – at least by the history books. It’s a story engrained in the British psyche.
Had the evacuation at Dunkirk failed, World War II would have gone very differently. Nolan’s film only gives hints of that greater context. It’s not much of a history lesson. You won’t learn a lot about what actually happened not because the movie is inaccurate, but because it’s focused on the psychological experience.