Dunkirk ★★★★½

70mm IMAX. 5-Minute drive from my apartment. Be jealous.

...Aaaaaaannnnnnd unclench.

Anyway.

Cinema can be a lot of things.

It can be a profound character study. It can be a documentation of wildlife. It can be an emotion, or even many emotions. It can be love, happiness, anger, sadness, and everything in between.

But perhaps when it hits the hardest is when it's fear.

And Dunkirk is fear.

This is an atmosphere piece. Not a character piece. Not a traditional narrative. This is one of the boldest films a big studio has put out since the 70's. It's a 100-minute, structurally experimental evocation of fear that's simply one of the most extraordinary pieces of filmmaking I've ever seen. That this was released to the masses is monumental. Coppola said of Apocalypse Now, "It's not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam." But there was still a fictitious story there. Dunkirk isn't about Dunkirk. It truly IS Dunkirk. Every (rich, jaw-dropping) frame places you in the war. That the cast is essentially a blank slate allows the audience to project themselves into the action. A bold choice, to say the least, and in lesser hands it would have been disastrous. But Nolan immerses you in sounds and images, all edited to perfection, that evoke piercing tension and shaking fear. Seeing it in 70mm IMAX was one of the most enrapturing and absorbing movie-going experiences I've ever experienced. A true testament to the richness and power of celluloid.

The narrative is simply survival. The story is simply fear. When it's finally over it's hard not to get emotional, the same way you might feel getting out of your car, realizing you've just survived a collision. The calm allows breath. The breath allows peace. Peace allows life.

These men survived Dunkirk, but Nolan has done the impossible. He's allowed us to survive it, too.

Alternative Titles:

A WEEK, DAY, AND HOUR TO REMEMBER
SHROUD ATLAS