Christopher Nolan focused on “physical jeopardy” rather than horror to differentiate Dunkirk from Saving Private Ryan.
The British filmmaker released his epic World War II drama, which focused on the rescue of soldiers from the beaches of France, this summer (17) and it was met with huge success around the world.
While it has an entirely different vibe to Steven Spielberg’s 1998 movie, which starred Tom Hanks and Matt Damon and focused on the Normandy invasion, Nolan turned to the fellow director to help inspire him, as well as ensuring his aesthetic contrasted to Spielberg’s.
Discussing Saving Private Ryan’s long gory beginning on the beach, featuring men in agony with wounds, Nolan explained to Variety, “It’s a truly horrific opening, and there are later sequences that are horrible to sit through. We didn’t want to compete with that because it is such an achievement. I realized I was looking for a different type of tension.
“I needed suspense, and the language of suspense is one where you can’t take your eyes from the screen. The language of horror is one where you hide your eyes. You’re looking away. It’s a different form of tension. We constructed our set-pieces not around violence, not around blood, but around physical jeopardy.”
As for what Spielberg said to his friend, the filmmaker himself revealed he simply recommended Nolan use his imagination as well as carrying out plenty of research.
Although Dunkirk, starring the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy, became a box office hit, the movie was released too early to be in the running for the 2018 Academy Awards – something Nolan was fully aware of when picking its drop date.
“We saw it as a blockbuster,” he noted. “It’s a strange (term) to use in relation to the subject matter, but we saw it as an entertainment, albeit one that’s intense and suspenseful. We wanted it to reach the widest audience possible, and that happens in summer.”