Describe how techniques have been used in the text. Explain how these techniques have been used to create a particular effect.
Humans go to great lengths to survive. In the film, Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan, survival and limited time are prominent themes. The film follows three-time timelines; the land which is set over a week, the sea which is set over a day, and the air which is set only in one hour. Christopher Nolan uses many different techniques to create particular effects in the film—most of them being non-diegetic sounds that demonstrate to the audience that time is running out.
Dunkirk is based on true events in 1940, during the second world war. 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 seen as a miraculous event because Winston Churchill—the prime minister of Britain—only expected 40,000 to get off the beach. They managed—with the help of civilized men with their boats—to get almost everyone home. Dunkirk was an important event as it was a big boost in helping Britain win the war against Hitler’s reign.
Hans Zimmer produced the Shepard tone and other music scores for Dunkirk. Shepard’s tone is a sound illusion containing three tones, each an octave apart. The middle tone stays audible throughout while the low tone fades and the high tone fades out. This creates the illusion of a never-ending sound that constantly rises and pitch and speed. Nolan uses shepard tone most prominently in the land characters. An example of this is when Tommy—a generic British troop—Alex, Gibson and countless other troops were on board the destroyer ship. As the camera is shown through the claustrophobic space, the audience becomes aware of the steel door that is locked shut. At this time, the shepard tone kicks in as the destroyer gets torpedoed by the Germans. In this scene, the shepard tone is an important way for the audience to feel even tenser while the troops try to escape the sinking ship, and fight for their lives. While the heart-racing shepard tone plays, the audience never has a moment to relax—they are always on the edge of their seats in anticipation. This non-diegetic sound creates the effect that something bad is going to happen, therefore making the atmosphere tense and anxious.
Another non-diegetic sound that Nolan uses to create effect is a ticking watch. The effect of the ticking is to make the audience aware of the limited time the characters have to survive. An important time where the ticking is used is in the air timeline with a spitfire pilot—Farrier. Farrier is faced with internal conflict when he learns he is low on fuel, he only has enough fuel to get home however he still has to provide air cover from the German bombers, the ticking is constant throughout this scene as it is a constant reminder of how important and quick every decision soldiers had to make were, one mistake could lead to the death of thousands. With Farrier’s choice to turn back and continue fighting, he does save countless lives. Farrier’s character represents understated heroism as Farrier is the most traditional hero in the film. Although he might not wear a cape, his self-sacrificing choice to continue fighting is a true act of heroism. Nolan uses the ticking of the watch for the effect that time is running out.
Nolan uses a close-up shot of Farrier’s face to create the effect of anxiety. The audience can’t fully see his face due to the mask he has on—they can only see his eyes. His eyes appear confused and worried as he decides to keep fighting the German plane (meaning he won’t make it home). The effect of this is the audience can see how agonizingly painful this decision is for Farrier. Farrier wants to do the right thing regardless of personal cost. The diegetic sound of his heavy breathing also adds to the tension. Through his agonized eyes and quick breathing, the audience becomes aware of the weight this choice has on Farrier. This scene informs the audience of the quick, life-or-death situations the spitfire pilots make instantly. Nolan does this to make the theme of self-sacrifice present as it is an everyday situation in war.
A visual technique Nolan uses to add affect is lighting. The effect of the lighting is used to portray how the characters are feeling—their mood. For example, Dull lighting is used to create a tense and anxious atmosphere on the beach. At the start of the film, the colour palette of the sky is grey. The sky stays this way throughout the film, reflecting the emotions of the soldiers stranded there. Most scenes with the beach have cold, dark and dull lighting. This symbolizes to the audience that the soldiers are in an unsafe dangerous environment with bad events coming. The lighting shows that Dunkirk beach is filled with death, destruction and discomfort. Nolan does this to create an uneasy environment. The weather at the beach looks like it could either rain or turn sunny. The effect of this shows the uncertainty of the events to come—they could either be good or bad. Eventually, the weather does turn sunny for the land characters as they survive.
In conclusion, Dunkirk uses many techniques throughout the film to create effects. The ticking watch and shepard tone creates a tense environment as the troops have limited time. The effect of the lighting creates an unsafe environment—which reflects the characters’ emotions. Without this miraculous event taking place, the world would be in a very different place than it is today. Viewers should never forget the importance of this historical event. Every second of this film shows how important survival is and what lengths people will go to for it.