Dunkirk Script

Christopher Nolan is no stranger to dialogue-heavy movies, mostly because his films like Inception and Interstellar require plenty of exposition in order for the audience to fully understand the complex sci-fi concepts at work. But when it comes to his World War II drama Dunkirk, the filmmaker relied on significantly less dialogue, instead letting tension and suspense fill the screen as the action sequences unfolded. In fact, Nolan once considered shooting the movie without a script at all.

Funnily enough, in the published version of the Dunkirk script that you can buy to read yourself, there’s an interview with Christopher Nolan conducted by his brother Jonathan Nolan (who wrote The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar). During their discussion, Christopher Nolan revealed that he had engrossed himself so deeply in the events of Dunkirk and how to portray him that he felt a script may not be necessary.

The Hollywood Reporter recounts Nolan’s explanation from the book:

“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.”

The geography of the story may be simple, but the three different timelines that unfold over a week, a day and an hour make the each story a little confusing at times. Even so, it’s at least a more interesting, engaging way to tell the story, even if it’s a little disorienting. But for Nolan, the way the story unfolds was clear, and it made him think he didn’t need a script. He was so confident that he even went to his producing partner and wife Emma Thomas, as well as the film’s production designer Nathan Crowley, with the proposal of not having a script:

“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. Emma looked at me like I was a bit crazy and was like, okay, that’s not really gonna work.”

While Nolan may have understood how the film was going to play out, and surely every member of the crew trusted his vision, the lack of a script could make production somewhat difficult. A script helps the various departments know what they need to pull off each day, and without that script, shooting the film could have been a mess, even with a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan in control.

As it stands, even with Nolan writing a script, it’s not as if the dialogue was plentiful. Most of the movie is propelled by the action and suspense from the Dunkirk evacuation operation unfolding and all the intensity that comes with it. Nolan acknowledged that’s intentional, and he went so far to say, “I felt like I’d kind of mastered that form,” when speaking about dialogue used to drive the emotional core of a movie. But don’t worry, because Nolan also said, “I will be coming back to dialogue.”

Since we don’t know what Nolan’s next project will be at this point, we’ll have to take his word for it.

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