“Dunkirk” is a 2017 film directed by Christopher Nolan. The film is divided into three timelines that eventually crossover at a point during the film. The Land
(1 week), The Sea (1 day), and The Air (1 hour). Nolan uses “Time, Camera Shots and Angles, and Sound”, and lighting effects to create an atmosphere in the audience who are watching the film.
More than 330,000 French, British, Belgian, and Dutch soldiers were evacuated from the beaches at Dunkirk using every vessel available to evacuate them.
Nolan uses the sound of a ticking watch (which is a non-diegetic sound) throughout the film Nolan kept the ticking watch - the effect of this music is to create tension and unease in the audience. An example of this would be during a scene where Nolan showed the audience a close-up of the spitfire fuel gauge, which informed the audience that time was ticking along with his fuel. Nolan had the ticking watch playing throughout the scene. This is reflected in Farrier’s decisions when he had to make a choice whether to return back home or provide air cover for the soldiers on the beach.
Another film technique that Nolan used is Shepard’s Tone. He does this to create tension and anxiety in the audience. Shepard’s Tone is used to build an audio illusion that sets up the feeling of consistent, never-ending rising and falling - this is accomplished by repeatedly playing notes that are one chord
apart. Hans Zimmer is the one that created the chord for “Dunkirk”, as this generates more tension in the audience as they sit eagerly wanting to know what happens next. An example where Nolan uses the Ticking Watch and Shepard’s Tone is when Collins (a spitfire pilot that got shot down) is in a sinking spitfire and he was trapped. He shows the audience a close-up of his face when he is desperately trying to break open the hatch. Nolan uses Shepard’s Tone, created by Hans Zimmer, to create the score for the film, in order to increase audience tension and fear as well as have an emotional impact.
Camera Shots and Angles are another technique that we see in the film used by Nolan. As the effect of the Ticking watch keeps repeating with Nolan shows us various close viewing of “Dunkirk”. An example that we see from camera shots and angles - is a close-up of Farrier’s fuel gauge(shattered) and chalk calculations, and watch (time ticking) which shows the time is nearly up, and how Farrier is left to face a critical choice. The audience also sees a close-up of Farrier’s eyes. The audience can see the internal conflict of Farrier’s decision. Farrier is the most conventionally heroic character. Nolan links Farrier to the theme of self-sacrifice.
Another effect that Nolan used is lighting. He uses light to create fear and claustrophobia. He even uses sound effects for it to create even more of an atmosphere. An example is when Tommy, Alex, and Gibson are stuck in a fishing traveler with water pouring in. Nolan uses water (being a diegetic sound) as a threat, and Shepard’s tone in the background creates a fear which causes the characters a type of madness. The lighting helps the audience understand more about how the characters felt and even has an impact on the audience because of how dark colors like grey make us feel even sadder rather than having a brighter colour to give us more of a happier mood.
In conclusion, Nolan uses lighting, a shepherd’s tone, a ticking watch, and camera shots and angles to produce a strong emotional response from the audience. Lightning is involved in scenes to reflect the emotions of the characters, Shephard’s tone creates tension and builds anticipation in the audience, the ticking of the watch is to justify how time is running out, and the camera shots and angles are to make the audience feel/see how the characters’ emotions are displayed. At the heart of “Dunkirk” is an understated English heroism film and resolve to uphold morality at all costs can be found.