A Shock to the Senses


I own a lot of notebooks. It’s an easy, reliable present for birthdays, Christmases, and general gift-giving events. Most of them remain blank, dust clinging to them on the corner of my bookcase. Last week, I plucked one from the pile.

There have been a handful of occasions where, in the cinema, I’ve had some insight or an idea to use in a review, but I forget parts of the point or meaning. Therefore, I went to the cinema last week with an A6 moleskin notebook to jot down essential notes to build my review.

By the end of Dunkirk, the notebook was covered in popcorn kernels and nacho bits, because within five minutes, I had dropped it on the floor.

And that’s the magic of cinema.

PLOT: Dunkirk portrays three narratives (land, sea, and air) following the different perspectives of men involved in the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk. They include a young private trapped on the beach, a civilian boater tasked with evacuating soldiers, and a pilot providing air support. That’s all there is to say.

If you ask me what aspect of Dunkirk succeeded the most, it is without-a-doubt the sound. If Dunkirk doesn’t collect all the awards relating to sound (bar music), it will be royally snubbed. Every gunshot, explosion, and breath haunt your eardrums. Even the ticking of a clock unnerves and panics an audience to the point where its absence is an immeasurable relief.

Almost unrecognisable.
Almost unrecognisable.

Every actor in this flick captured the desperation, bravery, and horror of this event, but perhaps the most surprising to me was the teenage heartthrob Harry Styles. While Tom Hardy gave a solid, stoic performance, with Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance creating some beautifully contrasting characters, the once lion-maned vocalist we all know and, erm, “love” disappears into the no-nonsense crew-cut Alex who’s consumed by one goal: survival. Considering this is his debut acting role in a feature film, Styles surprised me with an incredibly raw portrayal of a young soldier doing all he can to get home.

Nolan has never really been much of a cinematographer (Memento being a notable exception), and on first glance, Dunkirk seems to play it safe (excluding a very intriguing final shot). However, there is something overtly honest in its presentation. The long beach and vast channel are enough to conjure that isolation, and impossibly short yet arduous journey soldiers had to take.

‘Conjure that isolation…’

That honest portrayal compliments the story well, which neither throws itself in the audience’s face nor distances them from the violence of the situation: it merely represents, as best it can, the unrepresentable. Dunkirk is an experience, which is the exact reason why I dropped my notebook and vowed never to retake it to the cinema.

The weight of it on my lap threatened to defile Nolan’s vision: to make the audience feel the coarse sand, the salty air’s bite, and the stench of oil and grime. I mentioned the phrase ‘the magic of cinema’: the cinema knows it can never take you to Dunkirk, but there is always that impossible moment where you connect with the despair and fear, which on some level, does transport you to a different place altogether.

Dunkirk succeeded in doing this tenfold. Go watch it and be enthralled.

And on that incredibly deep note, I have an announcement!

…which will be broadcast on 12th August. Something very exciting is coming! Check back here or on my Facebook page for more.