How Christopher Nolan wrote the script of ‘Dunkirk’
(Credit: Netflix)

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How Christopher Nolan wrote the script of 'Dunkirk'

Christopher Nolan’s historical war epic Dunkirk was recently added to the Netflix catalogue. Nominated for eight and winner of three Oscars, Dunkirk is a visual spectacle with limited dialogue. And in typical mad-lad fashion, Nolan originally intended to shoot the film without a script.

It depicted the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II, using cinematography and music to create suspense. The film featured an ensemble cast including Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Mark Rylance, and Harry Styles in his film debut.

Nolan conceived of Dunkirk in the mid-1990s while crossing the English Channel with his then future-wife Emma Thomas, who has also produced most of his films, including the 2017 period drama. It was Thomas who persuaded him to write a script for Dunkirk.

Recounting Thomas’ reaction, Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter, “I got to a point where I understood the scope and movement and the history of what I wanted the film to address because it’s very simple geography.

“I said, ‘I don’t want a script. Because I just want to show it,’ it’s almost like I want to just stage it. And film it,” Nolan continued, “Emma looked at me like I was a bit crazy and was like, okay, that’s not really gonna work.”

One of his shorter screenplays, clocking in at 76 pages, Nolan finished writing Dunkirk relatively “quickly”. He explained how he got the structure of it going by getting “a hold of it mathematically” before he sat down and wrote the script “from page one right through to the end of the film; the way the audience is going to be receiving that information.”

He conceded, “The hope is that in that way, you’re actually creating a cohesive and more organic rhythm and story movement built on a very constructed set of parameters but not through cutting and pasting. Not creating a fractured narrative so much as disparate story threads that braid together to make one coherent story.”

Quentin Tarantino not only watched the film thrice, but called it a “symphony”,

“Oftentimes, you see a film where the style is about the adrenaline of it. The style is an immersive experience, but by the third or fourth viewing you get past the style and you realise the magician’s tricks,” Tarantino concluded, “In the case of Dunkirk, it rewards Nolan’s efforts to see it more. There’s a point, by mid-movie, he can’t do it wrong. It’s a symphony. Nothing doesn’t work.”

You can catch the full video here: