Can i have feedback on my Dunkirk essay?

(Question: describe visual/verbal features used in a visual/oral text you have studied. Explain how these features contributed to the text as a whole.)

Dunkirk is a film directed by Christopher Nolan. The film has three timelines, The Land timeline which lasts a week, The Sea timeline which lasts a day and The Air timeline which lasts an hour. The three timelines follow different focusing characters which present different themes throughout the film.

Dunkirk is based off of a real life event that happened during World War Two where the Allied Soldiers, being the French and English, were trapped at Dunkirk beach where the Germans were closing in on them. Civilians from England brought over boats to save the soldiers and the Allies were able to successfully retreat to England.

Throughout the film there is the non-diegetic sound of a ticking watch. The ticking is a reference, and symbolic to Farrier, a Spitfire pilot who is the focus character of The Air timeline, whose fuel gauge is broken and he has to rely on his watch to tell how much time he has left before his fuel runs out. The ticking is not only used during scenes of The Air timeline though, it is also used in the other two timelines, this is because Nolan uses the ticking to represent time running out for the characters. Nolans use of the ticking watch creates anxiety and tension in the audience to show the viewers the risk taken, the danger the characters are in and that they are in a race against time. The link to Farrier’s fuel gauge is important because when the ticking finally stops it is when Farrier has run out of time, when he is gliding to his doom across the beach, the other characters are safe in England and are no longer in close proximity to death in war, they have all made their goals in time and the movie can end.

Another verbal feature used in the film is the shepard tone which is a non-diegetic sound, composed by Hans Zimmer. Nolan jam packs this feature into many of the scenes in the film because it is useful in creating suspense and unease in the viewer, and to have it almost a constant without break sets the audience to have a glimpse into the emotions and internal experiences the characters are having throughout the film, the feeling of never truly being safe, this works especially well with The Land timeline as the dominant theme present is ‘survival’. You can see this technique in the scene where Tommy— an English soldier who is the focusing character of The Land timeline— aboards the boat at the mole, the audience can tell that Tommy is not safe because the shepard tone overtop of the other techniques creates a claustrophobic environment and setting the foreboding and dread for the audience. Shepard tone is an auditory illusion of everrising pitch, the technique is used in many horror films, such as The Exorcist, because of its effectiveness in making the audience anxious and feel that the characters are unsafe.

A visual technique in the film is the use of dim lighting, used mostly in The Land timeline. Nolan uses this lighting technique effectively in the film, a notable instance being when the boat Tommy is on gets torpedoed and the lighting is very dim, almost black. It forces the audience to feel as if they are one of the characters trapped in the sinking boat and to feel the desperation to escape death. This feature contributes to the film as lighting is very important in all visual presentations and the way Nolan uses the dim lighting enhances the feeling of uncertainty by not allowing the audience to use all their senses and forcing them to pay close attention to the traumatic experience the characters are facing. This links to the real world where if you were to lose your sense of sight in real life you would feel very on edge and unsafe in your environment, sight is a big part of an average person’s life experience and so having that sense stripped away is disconcerning and causes great agitation which is exactly what Nolan is trying to achieve.

During the film the Germans are barely mentioned by name. This technique is used purposefully by Nolan because he knows that referring to the Germans as ‘the enemy’ it strips away that bit of humanity and makes the audience fear them as they are now the unknown, they are the untouchable bullets shooting into the fishing trawler and they are torpedoes and the diverbombers, they are not only ‘the Germans’ or ‘the enemies’, they are the tragedy that affects the characters throughout the film are they are something that not even the audience can perceive. This is an interesting feature that Nolan uses in the film because in many other war films, the opposite is wanted, they want the enemy to be something ‘the hero’ can conquer and destroy or they want them not to be an enemy at all, they want to draw attention to the humanity of all in the war even those on the other side, such as seen in All Quiet on the Western Front.

In conclusion the film techniques such as shepard tone, the ticking watch, dimmed lighting and the fear of the unknown are contributing factors to the film as a whole because they contribute to the end result of unsettling anxiety Dunkirk forces the audience to experience because Nolan wants the audience to feel this way to have them truly reach into the mind of the characters and know why they do and feel what they do and how this shapes them as characters and pushes the plot throughout the film.

Kiā ora
In the introduction you need to answer both parts of the question. You need to explain what the feature is - you have suggested a structural feature of the timeline, perhaps you could call it a narrative structure? You then go into other techniques later which could have been set up in the start. The non diegetic sound is one you come back to and it would be good to set it up in the introduction. Then there is the second part of the question - how does this contribute to the overall texts - you establish that it shows themes but it would be more powerful to set up what the themes are.
Your coverage of the sound of the watch is good , evidence supports it and you allude to theme but the link to it could be clearer. Eg. you say to show the viewers the risk taken, the danger the characters are in and that they are in a race against time. You could then go on to elaborate on how this explores the theme of the desperation found in war when people are trying to survive against huge odds…
You cover this more closely in the next paragraph and subsequent ones. the essay gets stronger as it goes on.
Hope this helps.
JD :grinning: