Q&A: Nolan previews adrenaline rushing war epic ‘Dunkirk’

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Las Vegas (AP) – Director Christopher Nolan has spent his career bending minds (and cities) with his films.  He works on a scale that is stubbornly and obsessively cinematic and it seems that no concept, be it Batman or the multiverse or dreams, is too big for the visionary filmmaker.

His latest movie, “Dunkirk,” out July 21, takes him out of the fantasy world and into reality and the storied evacuation of Allied soldiers from that beach in France in May and June of 1940.

Film director Christopher Nolan.
Film director Christopher Nolan.
The image shows an action sequence from Christopher Nolan’s new film, “Dunkirk”.
The image shows an action sequence from Christopher Nolan’s new film, “Dunkirk”.

The film’s large eclectic ensemble cast includes veterans like Kenneth Branagh and Mark Ryland, Nolan mainstays Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, pop star Harry Styles and a few newcomers like Fionn Whitehead.

Nolan spoke to The Associated Press about “Dunkirk” at the recent CinemaCon in Las Vegas, where he was promoting his epic to theater owners:

AP: Why Dunkirk?

Nolan: As a filmmaker you’re always looking for a gap in cultural movies and Dunkirk is a story British people are raised on.  It’s in our DNA practically.  But it has not been addressed in the movies so for me it was a very exciting gap.  I’ve spent a number of years trying to figure out what’s the angle of approach for getting the story across?  So we came upon the notion of creating a very experiential film, one that rather than trying to address the politics of the situation, would really put you on the beach where 400,000 people are trapped, surrounded by the enemy closing in and faced with annihilation or surrender.  The fact the story ended with neither annihilation nor surrender makes it one of the greatest stories in human history.

AP: How did you approach it?

Nolan: The approach is trying to take the full experience and put the audience there.  What would it be like to be on the beach?  To be on a boat trying to cross the English Channel under fire?  It’s a huge challenge, but exactly the kind of challenge that you look for in film.

AP: You have said the film is less about character than survival.  Can you explain what you mean?

Nolan: I feel like Dunkirk is such a universal event and it involves so many people that to try to encapsulate the specific detail of the human experience wasn’t the way to go.  What we decided to do was to really try and live in the moment of the experience … the very immediate and human desire to survive.  It’s the most human movie I’ve ever made because it’s about the desire for survival.  We wanted to tackle that and make what I refer to as a very present tense narrative where you’re in the moment with the characters.

AP: Is there any truth to the report that the production bought a $5 million vintage plane to crash?

Nolan: No.  A lot of money was involved but not that much money.  These planes are so beautiful and so valuable for so many reasons and the respect I have for them having done this, especially now having worked with them.  The Spitfire is the most glorious machine.  We used real antique vintage planes and flew them for the movie but we also constructed full scale models to destroy.