Examining director Christopher Nolan’s previous work such as The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012), Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014), it is clear that the dialogue and exposition based stories are intertwined with amazing visuals. Dunkirk (2017), however, is a complete switch on this norm as this film tells an intense visual story through its cinematography.
The use of shooting Dunkirk (2017) in large format with IMAX cameras allows Nolan to show the large-scale shots and small-scale shots coherently and effectively providing a unique style and feel. This provides the audience with the feeling of being
claustrophobic in the cockpit of a Spitfire during a dogfight to feeling unsafe in the wide-open beaches of Dunkirk. Nolan emphasises the use of natural lighting in the shots from the dimly lit interior shots of a warship to the naturally lit exterior beach shots. Not needing the practice of fill lighting, Nolan uses natural lighting in Dunkirk (2017); this allows each scene to be lit by the mise-en-scène. Because of the locations used in Dunkirk (2017), the cinematography within this film is used to maximum effect.
Shooting a film in such a grand scale as Dunkirk (2017), it is essential from a cinematography perspective that all locations allow the director to convey the true aspect of each shot. For example, the beach and town of Dunkirk enables Nolan to take full advantage of using a helicopter mounted with an IMAX camera for the extreme wide shots, to the personal medium hand-held close-up shots of a soldier hiding in the bullet-ridden hull of a boat. Because Dunkirk takes place across the English Channel, from the perspective of the narrative, Nolan uses colour to signify which location is safe or unsafe.
Whenever Nolan shows the audience the beach in Dunkirk, the colour is cold adopting an analogue palette to tell the audience that the location is unsafe and fearful. However, when Nolan shows the audience England, ‘Home’, the colour palette within the shots is a vibrant goldish warm tint, signifying that this location is safe, inviting and tranquil. Nolan puts effort into making the white cliffs of Dover shimmer compared to the shots from war-torn France across the channel, the dimmer and darker side of the English Channel. Another element to the cinematography of Dunkirk (2017) is the sound mixing. The use of actual WW2 aircraft sounds provides an experience of terror when enemy fighter planes begin a bombing run, showing the audience what it would feel like from the soldiers’ perspective on the ground, in a tight space with nowhere to go.
Dunkirk (2017) tells a very visual story taking full advantage of the sound mixing, colour palette, equipment, and location-based elements of cinematography. This gives an audience the realistic sense of being in a wartime crisis from the tightly shot beginning of a Dunkirk street, to the wide-open beaches and the warmth and safety of home.
Pictures, W. B., 2016. Dunkirk – Trailer 1 [HD]. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-eMt3SrfFU
[Accessed 14 October 2017].
Pictures, W. B., 2017. DUNKIRK – OFFICIAL MAIN TRAILER [HD]. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7O7BtBnsG4
[Accessed 14 October 2017].