So, like a million other people in this world, I saw Dunkirk. I'll admit I didn't understand the movie. I saw it again and am embarrassed to confirm that I still didn't 'get' it. It's not like the film was in Swahili with Lithuanian subtitles. Or it's some fantastical story. This is a tale based on historical war fact. It is a series of boats capsizing, soldiers falling into water, fighter planes firing at each other, with a few words of dialogue thrown in. But, still, I was bemused. Please understand, dear reader, that my inability to comprehend Shri Nolan's latest offering isn't like say, my difficulty in following fare like Jab Harry met Sejal. I mean:
1. Was the Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan film that long ago that the makers can shamelessly lift a title in the hope that no one will make the connection?
2. For how long will a clearly aging SRK cradle snatch much younger heroines?
No, my 'dumbness' is in another whole other parallel universe. Let me reiterate. There are two types of Christopher Nolan cinema goers. Those who treat him as a demi-God, meaning nothing he does can be questioned. The second category are those who think he totally redefines self-indulgence. (My pal Anuvab Pal once famously said, 'I can't decide if the man is a genius or a fraud.')
I come from a third category — those who have no clue what's going on in his movies, but are still mesmerised. In his films I feel the need to reach out to Google/Wikipedia or an astronomy magazine to fully get the significance of a cinematic moment. (The equivalent of reaching out for a thesaurus when Shashi Tharoor is speaking.) His films are steeped in allusions to memory, whether it's his early Memento or the later The Dark Knight Rises. He is also obsessed with the concept of time — he bends it, works it backwards, has parallel timeframes going, as seen in Dunkirk or the earlier, Inception.
What amazes me, is how Nolan, breaks every conceivable screenplay tenet and still his 10 films have still yielded over 4.4 billion dollars worldwide — no linearity, no conflicts, no classic villains standing in the way of the hero; no obvious entertainment, no set formulae for success, no emotional content.
I remember sitting in a darkened FTII auditorium, in the 80s, trying desperately to decipher the specific world of Andrei Tarkovksy — where time just stood still. An astronaut in a rocket suspended in mid-air for the entire length of Solaris. But, then, the Russian maverick was a totally cult director, with a small following of devotees. Steven Spielberg, in stark contrast, makes popular films, so you can understand his success.
But Nolan making films for himself, breaking every rule and, yet millions have bought into that world.
Is this one giant cinematic scam? Or, a new form of unemotional story?
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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