Christopher Nolan Explains 'Dunkirk's PG-13 Rating: "It's Not A War Film" Wait... What?

Well, I feel a little foolish. Ever since Inception director Christopher Nolan announced, he'd be making a film called Dunkirk that centers on one of the turning points in World War II, I assumed he'd be making a traditional war movie. But in a new interview, Nolan defends the film's PG-13 rating and specifically says that despite its setting, Dunkirk "is not a war film." I guess that's what I get for assuming things.

If it's not a war film, then what is it? Find out after the jump.

Just to make sure everyone's on the same page, here's a quick rundown of the plot. The movie takes place during late May and early June of 1940 when Allied forces were backed onto a beach in France and faced certain defeat. But the Nazi army paused to consolidate their forces, which gave the Allies enough time to evacuate 330,000 troops by sea and allow them to fight another day. It's widely seen as one of the defining moments of the war.

Read on to discover Nolan's description of the film and why he calls it "the most human movie [he's] ever made.


Defending the PG-13 Rating

In an interview with the Associated Press that took place at CinemaCon, the Dark Knight trilogy filmmaker explained why his new movie is rated PG-13:

"All of my big blockbuster films have been PG-13. It's a rating I feel comfortable working with totally. Dunkirk is not a war film. It's a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film. So 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. I would really like lots of different types of people to get something out of the experience."

Since we haven't really seen much from the film aside from a rather enigmatic trailer, this is the most informative piece of info I've heard about the film's tone thus far, and it totally resets my expectations for the film. I was going in expecting to see Nolan's take on the brutality of war, his spin on Saving Private Ryan's opening sequence. But it sounds like he's much more concerned with making an "experiential" film instead of concentrating on the grim horrors of war.

dunkirk trailer

Nolan's Most Human Film

In that same interview, Nolan also explained how this movie is less about character than it is about survival:

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. You're not necessarily spending too much time discussing who they were before or who they will be after.

Nolan is a filmmaker whose work is often dissed for being too cold and impersonal, and while he admits that the movie doesn't necessarily hinge on its characters, it certainly sounds as if he's attempting to explore an emotional truth that he's rarely explored on film before. As someone who likes a majority of his work but understands the criticisms many have of his characters, this could be the perfect bridge between spectacle and emotion that could lead him to become an even better director moving forward.

Dunkirk blasts into theaters on July 21, 2017.

Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea, they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.