Hi, could I please get some feedback on this essay and possibly a grade? I am struggling with wider world connections so any suggestions/ideas for that would be great
Question: Analyse how language features were used to create a powerful emotional response from the audience
In the film Dunkirk, the director Christopher Nolan aimed to make the audience have an emotional response to connect them with the soldiers and their situation. He does this with a range of techniques, such as a non-linear timeline, shepherds tone, and different camera shots.
Dunkirk is based around the story of a group of 400,000 french and british soldiers trapped on the beach of Dunkirk. They are surrounded by enemy forces, and they cannot escape out on the water because of the constant bombing. They were eventually rescued by a mass of civilians, and approx 300,000 men escaped. Dunkirk follows the hopeless soldiers on the beach, the pilots in the air trying to protect them, and a civilian boat heading into an active war zone. This film is all about the hopelessness and anxiety of the soldiers on the beach, and the struggles they went through.
One of Dunkirk’s most defining features is the haunting score, composed by Hans Zimmer. Zimmer uses a multitude of sounds in this score, but the most recurring and powerful is the shepard’s tone. Shepard’s tone is a sound composed of 3 different tones layered together, and it gives the illusion of a constantly rising tone. This invokes a sense of fear into the audience, which is exactly what Nolan intends. The sound begins from the first scene, of three soldiers walking through the abandoned streets of Dunkirk. It is visually a peaceful scene, as there are no sounds other than the wind. However, there is the faint sound of a shepard’s tone. This miniscule addiction changes the scene from a peaceful one to one that is full of trepidation. This makes the following event of all but one soldier being shot down much more fearful as there was an unsettling lead up. This is just one example of this tone being used, as almost every scene utilises it. It is this recurring and powerful because it is so integral to Christopher Nolan’s purpose. In this peaceful scene, it puts us in the soldiers shoes as we feel on edge. This speaks to the reality of war, as even in the seemingly quiet rests between conflict, soldiers are never truly at rest. They are always expecting another tragedy, another attack. It is through the simple use of this tone that we too feel this way. This makes the audience reflect on the feelings of those soldiers, and realise the true horror of war.
Christopher Nolan is known for his non-linear timelines, and Dunkirk is no different. It is split into three parts; the mole, the sea, and the sky. The mole is the soldiers on the beach, and this section is set over a week. The sea is the civilian boat, and this is set over a day. The sky’s the pilots making their way to Dunkirk, and this is set over a matter of hours. Because of the different timings and speed of time, it creates a snowballing effect as the events and timelines get closer to their meeting point. This makes the film seem to speed up, and time seems to change pace. Although hard to keep track of, this timeline creates a very strong feeling in the film. It feels as though the soldiers, and the pilots, and the civilians are always running out of time. This makes time the true enemy. Without this nonlinear timeline, it would be hard to convey the same level of panic and going against the clock. This is why Nolan utilised this. It is a core part of the message of the film, and creates an emotional response in the viewer. Just like the shepard’s tone, it shows how time works against people in these high pressure situations. Unlike typical war films that show a clear enemy, the enemy in Dunkirk is invisible. We never see the Germans, only the bombs they drop upon the soldiers. This was purposeful, and ties into the timeline as the enemy is time, not people.
Nolan uses many different shots, but the one that creates the biggest emotional response and furthers the directors purpose is the many wide shots. These wide shots start from the beginning, as the main character Tommy walks onto the beach and we see a wide shot of the hundreds of thousands of men waiting. This wide shot makes the men look tiny, as they face the sea, hoping for salvation. This effect makes them look powerless, which is what Nolan intends. The many wide shots show how many men there are, yet how powerless they are despite their massive numbers. The whole film shows the reality of war. It does not follow the typical purpose of war films, which is to glamorise the bravery of soldiers. In this film, the soldiers on the beach are hopeless, and there is no bravery. They are not the ones who can escape, as they are powerless in their situation. This is a powerful message, made more powerful by the techniques Nolan uses.
In conclusion, Nolan uses many techniques to effectively create an emotional response in the audience. This is done through Shepard’s tone, non-linear timeline, and wide shots. These invoke feelings of fear and anxiety, and put the audience in the soldiers shoes. The real soldiers on Dunkirk would have been hopeless and terrified, and that’s exactly how Nolan wanted the audience to feel. He did this so that the audience would understand the purpose of the film and truly feel the reality of war.