Question: describe at least 1 important event in the film and explain how this event had a positive or negative effect.
Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ accurately portrays the events of the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. Cleverly, he tells the story in the triptych of land, sea and sky to capture different perspectives of the different heroes of the Dunkirk miracle. Several techniques—Shepard tone, close-ups, a ticking watch and low-key colour pallets—are used in the film to build tension and grow engagement in the audience during important events. During the film Farrier faces a critical decision during his spitfire flight that will impact the rest of the soldiers significantly. He is the traditional hero of the film.
The film Dunkirk is based on the real-life events of the 1940 WW2 evacuation of Dunkirk. The evacuation was code-named operation dynamo, many knew it as the miracle of Dunkirk. When Germany invaded France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), and French and Belgium troops were pushed to Dunkirk beach where they were trapped under 100 kilometres from Britain. The advancing enemy with every hour creates panic and urgency to escape the beach. Approximately 340,000 soldiers were rescued by parents and civilians voluntarily helping in the evacuation efforts, sailing in their different yachts and boats to pick up as many soldiers as possible. Their efforts were a big boost to British morale to fight the next war; The Battle of Britain.
Farrier, a flight lieutenant for the British airforce, is faced with a critical decision when he is faced with the reality that he has enough fuel to get back home while leaving his country vulnerable to Stuka dive bombers or provide air cover for the 300,00 soldiers on the beach and most likely die in the cockpit. Signaling to the viewers that Farrier is in a race against time before his fuel will run out, Nolan uses a close-up of Farrier’s shattered fuel gage and chalk calculations. In this way, the viewers are immediately exposed to the significance of this internal conflict he is faced with. The close-up of Farrier’s eyes also forces the audience to only focus on his quick agonising in internal conflict before deciding to provide air cover sacrificing himself for the good of others.
In addition to the close-up camera angles, Shepard tone perpetuates throughout the film to create an impending sense of doom. It continues throughout Farrier’s decision. Shepard tone is a tri-tone auditory illusion of 3 tones compiled on top of each other an octave apart going on in a loop, seemingly getting faster and tenser as the scene gets more urgent. As the tones move up the scale the highest pitch gets quieter, the middle pitch remains at a consistent volume, and the lowest pitch gradually gains volume. This auditory illusion is composed by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer and Christopher Nolan combine their talents of cinematography and music composition to fully engage the audience. This sound technique is used extensively throughout the film and escalates the tension and importance of Farrier’s decision.
Another sound technique Nolan and Zimmer use is a ticking watch. The ticking watch symbolises that Farrier has a limited amount of time to resolve the conflict by shooting down the enemy planes. Implying that if Farrier doesn’t complete the task, he and thousands of others will suffer the consequences of death. This significantly increases the pressure applied to Farrier. When the fuel runs out, the ticking immediately stops. Time has run out. Time has stopped for everyone for better or for worse.
The Low-Key lighting of the soldiers on the beach and Commander Bolton signifies the bleakness and lack of hope that war brings. Every single one of them looks on expectantly hoping for a miracle. Stranded at Dunkirk beach with no certainty of escaping. The eerie sirens of Stuke dive bombers approaching end in surrender to death, closing their eyes to make it more bearable. At the last second Farrier intercepts and shoots it down. The sun sets representing defeat. It is not the end. Farrier has saved them all.
Farrier’s definitive decision was important to the film as a whole because he saved several lives through his courage and strength impacting everyone positively. The thousands of soldiers he saved meant every single one of them returning home to their loved ones. Those same soldiers continued on to fight in the Battle of Britain. Britain’s future freedom depended upon Farrier’s bravery. This applies to us because Germany would have had a better chance at winning the war, had those soldiers not been saved. New Zealand and other current English-speaking countries would have been captured by Nazis converting the commonly spoken language to German. Our ancestors likely had some part to play in the war. Self sacrifice of courageous people whether they be civilians, soldiers, or mothers sending their children to the horrors of war led to each and every one of us living today. Learning from these characters’ strengths we too can take the step to overcome trials and provide ‘cover’ for future generations and those around us we love.