Dunkirk — A Retrospective

The opening shot of the printed paper, flying down from the sky (telling the British soldier that they are surrounded on Dunkirk) means this film wasn’t going to get into the ‘whys’ of things. It lives in the present moment. Christopher Nolan has talked about how he saw this as a survival story filled with suspense rather than a ‘War’ film and how his pitch to the studio was Virtual reality without the goggles. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel disappointed at times while I was watching it. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic or the fact that this is a film based on real events is a drawback. But like all of his previous films, I’ve loved them more exponentially on multiple viewings later on. This film does not disappoint on ambition though. Like Interstellar which “people” don’t love (but I do because of its ambition and optimism), this film wants to be basically more than the sum of its parts. I think it succeeds in being just that in the end. For me, the first half was riveting. I couldn’t take my eyes off from the screen. I knew I was in the hands of a storyteller I can trust. It’s giving me all this visual and audio information to remember and is asking me to make sense of them. He is not feeding information directly even about the characters, but is asking you to take a leap of faith and is hoping that you will take what you need from the film.

“Dunkirk” isn’t about the individual but rather us as a collective being transcending national boundaries (or beaches), ominous water bodies and vast skies. It doesn’t concern itself with the War much but rather focuses on the evacuation situation as a poetic representation of society, or a species struggling and fighting to live. All we need to know is that we all want to go home and don’t we all? After what life does to you outside your own protective walls? Now imagine a War in the middle of all that. We can’t because we’ve never really seen it except on screens where the bullets can’t hurt us. Nolan does use some specific perspectives and moments typical of war. Like the sound of a spitfire plane slowly approaching from a distance in the vast skies and you see it from a ground level perspective and how those proportions look and sound like. Or how hungry soldiers would bite onto anything eatable after being stuck without amenities for days. Or how a spitfire pilot would not see/hear anything except what’s in front of his tiny confined cockpit or wind shield. Dunkirk is a very experiential film but is also painfully foggy at places. You don’t really know who’s who and what’s going on at some times but isn’t that what happens in chaos?

At times I did wish that the film would ‘show’ more but then the film is asking you to come and meet it midway to make it whole. I wished some scenes would be better framed or framed from a God’s eye view which would better compose some actions scenes and it wouldn’t be so shaky or half under water. I wish the soundtrack didn’t overpower some moments like when the one plane crash lands in the sea and the Pilots seems to be stuck inside his cockpit as the water starts to rush in. Maybe some moments with just the sound effects without the score, that seems a little too on the nose, can generate greater impact.

Kenneth Branagh’s Commander Bolton, the highest ranking English officer on the scene, seems to be just as unsure of how to manage the situation as the thousands of soldiers, who’ve lined up on the dock (or thrown themselves into sea because they cant stand waiting anymore) ducking each time a German plane passes by while casually dropping a few bombs and vanishing from sight. Fionn Whitehead as Tommy is a young kid who clearly has been thrown into a fight started by older men. Harry Styles as Alex develops a genuine friendship sparked by a common path with Tommy which ends with a we ‘survived’ beer.

What Nolan does though with structure is quite intriguing and that’s what brings more value in a re-watch. Told in different timelines and physical locations (land-sea-air) during this one overarching event is something to hold in your brain for some time to come. What I was expecting perhaps was more of a culmination into a singular event which didn’t come as such instead there was an end to the different tales. Some of the people on the land and the sea survive while Tom Hardy’s pilot has to surrender on the beach in spite of an aerial victory. The shot of the plane set on fire is a nice metaphor for annihilation.

War is chaotic. That’s the point maybe.

Unveiling ‘La La Land’: A Passionate Ode to Dreams, Jazz, and Love in Hollywood | Review 2023

La La Land is about Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling).

Mia is a struggling actress turned cashier who stands in front of executives from Hollywood who would rather concentrate on their phones instead of listening to her giving her soul into her acting auditions. No one cares for her dreams and there are plenty of insecurities and fears lurking. Things are not as vibrant as her clothing. Sebastian, with Ryan Gosling’s goodness, is passionate about Jazz. He plays the piano like a king. In terms of achieving success, he doesn’t really have anything but clearly a lot of desire. He aims to open a Jazz cafe in LA that plays “real jazz”. The story is an ode to the ‘City of Stars’ and our characters ask ‘Are you shining just for me?’ It’s a story about passion, love, jazz, colors, dreams, hopes, and real life at the same time.

It’s about how we stay focused on course to find our passions and sometimes in life some person we’d never thought we would date comes to completely derail us. The pain of gaining someone and then losing yourself. Now tell me you haven’t felt like that in real life.

The first shot of La La Land is a 3–4 minute dance sequence with some brilliant and technically astounding camera/dance moves on a traffic jam on a flyover in Los Angeles. To be able to see this 35mm film shot with cinemascope lenses in IMAX was incredible. The color palette of a beautiful dreamland of a city (LA) was an absolute delight to watch. I often love when filmmakers and filmmakers are confident enough to show meaningful wide shots of spaces where our characters live and breathe.

Damien Chazelle, the director of La La Land holds plenty of frames for a beautiful amount of time. The film, just because of the camera work, is able to allow us a proper window into the lives of these people. You might have heard/seen posters of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing to beautiful sunsets of LA but perhaps what you realize when you actually see them doing this, is the hard work and commitment which must have gone into the process of making this beautiful film. This is clearly a film made with passion, with love, and for the artists and the dreamers. Yes, this film is for the ‘fools who dream’ ‘no matter how silly it may seem.’

Let’s talk about the music, shall we? You would imagine a modern musical to perhaps be a little distinct in terms of the singing, dancing, and dramatic scenes. No … La La Land is a differently-abled masterpiece. The music, the lyrics, the technical proficiency, the characters, and the story all tell the same coherent story as Damien’s first film Whiplash where the editing and shots are so precise that it feels like a perfect blend of quick emotional surges and slow breathing holding shots. The film makes you feel so many emotions yet gives you faith and motivation to continue dreaming.

Spoilers Ahead:

Stands out scenes for me were …

  1. Mia’s audition at the end: Emma Stone sings in this continuous take revealing what her character feels is powerful. Especially when an image of a struggling artist like that lingers on screen for a while it leaves a lasting impression. This is the scene that will probably nudge the Oscar in her favor.
  2. Epilogue at the end: Beautiful and mesmerizing musical montage storytelling. With an end so heartbreaking yet poignant and true. The writing and characters are magical.
  3. ‘City of Stars’ sequences: My favorite soundtrack in a long time.
  4. Basically, the whole movie is brilliant.

Make no mistake about it …

La La Land is destined to be a classic. It’s a worthy IMAX experience.

Although I have yet to see the likes of Manchester by the Sea, Silence, Moonlight, etc. I would be surprised if this one doesn’t win the 2017 Academy Awards for Best Soundtrack, best song, Best Actress (Emma Stone), and Best Film.