Dunkirk ★★★★½

Nolan the aesthete trumps Nolan the dramatist. Dunkirk is the celebrated pop-auteur's study of himself, a borderline parodic reflection of his own mode of manufacturing suspense via that most curious of heightened cinematic plane known as the 'set piece'.

It is evident that the film's subject matter merely serves to camouflage and/or elevate Nolan's fetishistic obsession with fragmented images and non-diegetic temporality, the way a student hides a porn magazine behind a school textbook during a lecture. The world of the film, despite taking place within a specified period of history, rejects the mode of mimesis upon which cinematic renditions of real-world memories are typically constructed. It rather resembles a diorama -- a desolate, stripped-down simulacrum of motion and momentum.

Dunkirk is deliberately myopic in nature; it cares not for the Why as it does for the How. In this specific regard, the film's form is linked to its plot: who cares about the big picture -- why we arrived in this mess -- when the only thing that matters is the preservation of what was not yet lost. For a film marketed as a historical epic, Dunkirk is oddly devoid of history -- there is no precursor, no attempt at rationalization. As is the case with Leonard Shelby, Nolan's tragic protagonist in Memento who is blissfully unaware of the absence of memories, Dunkirk is catapulted into action to preserve the present regardless of the past.

As if mirroring the characters' isolation from the outside world, the film assumes the form of a jagged memory, where the discrete experiences of the land, air, and water exist within their own separate temporalities that only coalesce into a single continuum when Nolan chooses to adjust his directorial lens. It's a concentrated dose of the set piece, a hyper-fiction within fiction, in which the director's authorial sleights of hand override the viewer's affective responses by presenting a single most pressing event that requires their utmost attention, lest the film disappears into mere ephemerality.

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