Describe at least one important event in the text.
Explain how this event had a positive OR negative effect
Doing what you can to survive is a human instinct. Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’, directed in 2017, with musical scores by Hans Zimmer portrays the themes of heroism, survival and patriotism. The movie is split into three timelines, the land which is set over a week, the sea, which is set over a day and the air which is set over an hour. Nolan uses various non-diegetic sounds to make the need for survival even trickier.
Dunkirk is based on true events in 1940, between 26th of May and 4th of June. Just under 400,000 British and French soldiers were trapped on a French beach and they needed to get off, they needed to get home. However, the Germans constant bombing prevented them from achieving this task—it seemed next to impossible. Dunkirk is often seen as a miracle because Winston Churchhill—the prime minister in Britain—only expected 40,000 men to get off the beach but they managed to get almost everyone. Dunkirk is an important event as it was a big boost in helping Britain win the war against Hitler’s reign.
Christopher Nolan uses the non-diegetic sound of a ticking clock to demonstrate that time is running out. Non-diegetic sound is something that the audience can hear but not the characters in the film. This creates an uneasy atmosphere because the audience becomes semi-aware of the limited time the characters have. An important moment in the film where ticking is used is in the air characters—especially Farrier. Not only does he have limited fuel, meaning limited fighting time, but he also has to make instant life-or-death choices constantly. The ticking clock is used after Farrier decides to continue fighting, knowing that his fuel is low—knowing he most likely won’t make it back home. It is almost an echo of Farrier’s inside thoughts as his fuel gauge ticks away. From the start of the movie to the end, every passing second means they are more likely to be killed or captured. Nolan uses the ticking to never let the audience forget that they have limited time. The ticking keeps the audience anxious, worried and unsettled due to the constant reminder that every second wasted could be a second closer to their deaths. The characters have to fight against time to survive and get home.
Shepard tone is another way Nolan makes the audience feel anxious and unsettled. Shepard tone is a sound technique Nolan is very familiar with, using it in other films such as ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Prestige’. Composed by Hans Zimmer for Dunkirk, Shepard tone is a musical illusion using a high, middle and low tone, each an octave apart. The highest tone slowly fades out, the middle tone stays audible throughout and the lowest tone slowly fades in. This makes the listener hear a sound which seems to be continuously rising without end while getting faster. In the scene when Tommy—a generic British soldier— and others are trapped in the Destroyer ship that’s getting torpedoed by the Germans, the non-diegetic Shepard tone rises to create unsettlement. It makes the audience tense while the men are fighting to survive. Gibson—a French soldier—struggles to get the cabin door filling up with water open to release Tommy, Alex and the hundreds of other trapped men. The already tense scene becomes even tenser with Shepard tone because as the tone rises in sound and becomes faster, the audience isn’t allowed to forget the danger and stress that the characters are feeling. The Shepard tone is used in scenes to show that the soldiers are not safe in their environment.
Lighting is used in Dunkirk to portray how the characters are feeling. For example, the use of dull lighting is used to make the audience feel unsafe and anxious. Different scenes in Dunkirk used different lighting to show different emotions to create feelings. In the opening scenes when we first see the beach, the sky and colour palette is grey. The overcast sky stays like this throughout the film, reflecting the emotions of the soldiers stranded there. Most scenes with Dunkirk beach have dull, cold, dark lighting. This symbolizes to the audience that the soldiers are in a dangerous environment and it becomes even more dangerous the longer they are stranded there. The lighting shows that Dunkirk was a dark place to be filled with death, destruction and discomfort. Nolan does this to create an uneasy atmosphere. The weather at the beach looks like it could rain or turn sunny. Nolan uses the dull cloudy weather to show the uncertainty of the events to follow. Eventually, the weather does turn sunny for the land characters as they have survived.
The use of dull lighting contrasts with the use of brighter warmer colours. In the sea characters, right from the beginning of the film, their colour palette was warmer and brighter than the dark colours of Dunkirk beach. Nolan does this because Mr Dawson and the other sea characters symbolize hope. It came down to simple everyday folk stepping up to save the countless men trapped on the beach. The bright colours contrast with the land’s dull lighting and grey palette. This creates a sense of light in the darkness. It gives the audience hope that the sea characters are successful in their mission. At the end of the film, when the land characters are on the train; the colours and lighting change. This signifies that they are safe and they are going home. They no longer have to fight for survival—survival is the key theme for the land characters. By changing the lighting by making it warm and soft the audience feels at ease, they no longer have to feel anxious and expect something bad to happen. The brighter lighting and warmth of them arriving in their homeland shows they have survived and no longer have to fight for their lives.
In conclusion, ‘Dunkirk’ uses many film techniques to show important events to create positive and negative effects. One important event was when Farrier made his self-sacrificing choice to shoot down the German plane. Shepard tone, a ticking watch and lighting are all used to emphasize key important events throughout the film. Without this miraculous event taking place, the world would be in a very different place as today’s people know it. The world would be very different, so viewers must never forget the importance of this historical event. Every second of this film shows how important survival is and what lengths people will go for it.