‘Dunkirk’: 9 Things You Need to Know About Christopher Nolan’s WWII Blockbuster

With under a month to go before Nolan's new movie arrives in theaters, here are the bullet points every fan must know before going in.

Christopher Nolan is set to return to theaters July 21 with his highly anticipated WWII blockbuster “Dunkirk,” and anticipation is reaching a fever pitch with under a month to go. The movie, which recounts the Dunkirk evacuation, stars Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh, among others.

READ MORE: ‘Dunkirk’: Christopher Nolan Explains Why the WWII Story Is in His ‘DNA’ 

Nolan is a filmmaker well known for his secrecy regarding new projects, and while we still don’t know a lot about “Dunkirk,” the director has teased the movie a bunch in interviews over the last several months.

IndieWire has rounded up all the most important, need-to-know facts about “Dunkirk” below. Make sure you know these 9 things before buying your ticket to Nolan’s latest summer blockbuster.

1. It’s the Shortest Feature Nolan Has Made Since His Debut

Warner Brothers has confirmed that “Dunkirk” will only run one hour and 47 minutes, including end credits, making the WWII epic the shortest movie of Nolan’s career since his feature debut, “The Following” (one hour and nine minutes). Only two other Nolan movies have run under two hours: “Memento” (one hour and 53 minutes) and “Insomnia” (one hour and 58 minutes).

All of the director’s big Hollywood blockbusters have clocked in over the 120 minute mark. His last outing, the space odyssey “Interstellar,” was his longest movie ever at two hours and 49 minutes. Each film in “The Dark Knight” trilogy ran over two hours and 20 minutes, while “Inception” clocked in at two hours and 28 minutes.

Length has never been an issue when it comes to Nolan and the box office, though the shorter “Dunkirk” runtime suggests a much tighter narrative, despite what could be a very sprawling setting.


2. It’s Set During World War II But It’s Not A War Film

Despite the movie’s WWII setting — the Dunkirk evacuation took place during the Battle of France — Nolan has gone on record multiple times declaring that “Dunkirk” is not a war film, but rather a suspense movie.

“It’s a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film,” Nolan told the Associated Press earlier this year. “While there is a high level of intensity to it, it does not necessarily concern itself with the bloody aspects of combat, which have been so well done in so many films. We were really trying to take a different approach and achieve intensity in a different way.”

The film has received a PG-13 rating from the MPAA, which threw a curveball to some fans hoping a Nolan war film would be earn an R rating. Nolan’s focus on suspense over bloodshed is no doubt the reason why.

READ MORE: Christopher Nolan Explains Why ‘Dunkirk’ is Rated PG-13: ‘It Is Not a War Film’

3. The Film Tells Three Different Stories Simultaneously (Even Though They All Take Place At Different Times)

It wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan movie without an ambitious leap of storytelling, so here is where things get very, very Nolan. When the director announced he was making a WWII feature, most fans were left wondering what Nolan was going to bring to the war genre, and he teased his narrative risk with Premiere magazine back in February.

“The film is told from three points of view: The air (planes), the land (on the beach) and the sea (the evacuation by the navy),” he said. “For the soldiers embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; And if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel.”

What Nolan is essentially telling us is that the story threads of “Dunkirk” don’t all match up on the same time frame. So how exactly is he planning to tell three different stories that take place over different durations of time?

“To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata,” Nolan said. “Hence the complicated structure; Even if the story, once again, is very simple.”

Expect a lot of the success of “Dunkirk” to be riding on just how exactly Nolan cracked the time challenges facing the narrative.

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