Dunkirk Film Essay Feedback

Describe how the techniques have been used in the text

Explain how these techniques have been used to create a particular effect

‘Dunkirk’ directed by Christopher Nolan portrays a military disaster (in 1940) that nearly left thousands of British soldiers stranded on the beach of Dunkirk where the Germans were inching their way closer and closer. With the use of techniques such as shepherd tone and the ticking of a watch, Nolan was about to create suspense and tension for the audience as though they were on the beach alongside the soldiers. With near to no ships to evacuate the soldiers and o reserving the aircraft for the war, the British used their own civilians to help the mass evacuation.

Throughout the film, Nolan uses an auditory illusion going on in a perpetual loop called a shepherd tone to create tension and anxiety within the audience. Shepherd tone tricks the viewers making them believe there is a continuing ascension of tone, like a barbers pole of sound, constantly seeming to rise without actually going anywhere. Composed by Hans Zimmer he cleverly made this illusion by simultaneously playing three different octaves while you can always hear two rises as the other falls so it isn’t noticeable. Nolan takes advantage of this and uses it to create and build tension for the audience as if they were in the movie. During the scene when Farrier (spitfire pilot) is by himself in the air trying to go after a Stuka plane, the background shepherd tone is almost silent yet suspenseful as the shepherd tone leaves you hanging on your seat. Dunkirk is built around this score and this is one of the many scenes it used cleverly to build up suspense within the audience. Dunkirk hardly ever slows down from start to finish by the way Nolan used the auditory illusion. He loves shepherd tone and has used it in other films such as The Dark Knight and the Prestige.

In the background of the film, nearly throughout the entire movie, there is a continuous sound of a ticking watch. The ticking of a watch is a non-diegetic sound where Nolan has added in this ticking for tension and suspense. As the Germans inch their way closer towards Dunkirk, the ticking is a reminder for those 300,000 left stranded on the beach, where their time is limited.

The watch is a symbol of the time running out for the British soldiers where every second is crucial for their survival. This technique is known as the heartbeat of the movie and it mimics the adrenaline rush of the characters in the film. Collins (spitfire pilot) gets shot down and we see him plummet into the ocean. Although it seemed Collins landing was fairly safe, we watch as the water devours him and he struggles to escape as his hatch is stuck. The ticking of the watch progressively gets faster and faster building up the suspense in the scene. The ticking emphasises the time running out for Collins.

Another technique used in this scene is a close-up shot. Close-ups are frequently used in Dunkirk especially when we see the pilots in the cockpit. Most of the shots of the pilots are from within the cockpit and since it’s so confined a close-up is used. Although used as the cockpit is very confined, close-ups are used to allow the audience to feel claustrophobic. As Collins is gasping for air we feel him struggling. Close up shots are used to show a strong emotional connection between the audience and the character, it allows the audience to see the details in their face to truly express their emotions.

Over the techniques, Nolan used to create and build tension were very sufficient and left you hanging on your seat throughout the entire film. Nolan has used the ticking of the watch and shepherd tone in many of his films and has never failed the executions. Dunkirk was a tense and suspense-filled film that made it feel as if you were in the movie. All the techniques used were able to emphasise the tension and suspense throughout the film. Nolan was able to take this historic event and compose it into a film that left you emotionally connected.

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Great film. The intro sets up both parts of the question - the techniqus and the effect. How about trying to mention the Director’s purpose in doing so as well. Nolan wanted this effect so we would understand… Mentioning the purpose keeps the focus and allows you to come to perceptive thought.
With the paraghraph on the shepherd tone - go a little further - why is it important that we have the build up of tension? Could it be to give the audience a sense of the ever increasing anxiety experienced by the soldiers as they didn’t ever know what to expect and where death might be?..
Same extension could happen with the close ups.
In the conclusion if you can bring it back to the purpose again it is more forceful - why was it important that we felt we were in the film? Why did we need to feel empotionally connected? and so on.
Great understanding of techniques and well chosen examples.