Christopher Nolan's tenth film may be his most mysterious yet. Having spent the last decade alternating entries in his acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy with mind-bending sci-fi yarns (The Prestige, Inception, Interstellar), the director is switching things up for his highly-anticipated 2017 release, Dunkirk. Reverse chronology, jaw-dropping illusions, dreams-within-dreams, fifth-dimensional tesseracts; Nolan's films are largely known for these and other mind-bending gimmicks. So what makes his next movie so mysterious is its utter lack of mystery. The official synopsis and cast for Dunkirk have just been released and, so far, the movie seems completely and shockingly… normal.
First of all, here's the very brief summary:
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.
As we know, the film will tell the story of the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, also known as Operation Dynamo, in which hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were rescued from the French coastal town over the course of eight days after being cut off and surrounded by Nazi troops. (This evacuation was also reenacted in a breathtaking five-minute tracking shot in the 2007 film Atonement.)
The cast list may be missing a few of Nolan's reliable mainstays, including Christian Bale and Michael Caine, but it remains impressive nonetheless. The director chose British newcomer Fionn Whitehead to play the lead role, but the supporting cast is filled out by recent Oscar winner Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies), Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, Nolan veterans Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, as well as James D'Arcy (Marvel's Agent Carter), Jack Lowden (War & Peace), and Harry Styles (yes, the One Direction singer), among others.
But where's the twist? Knowing Nolan's resumé, you probably expected that disappointingly dull synopsis to end with something like, "And then they travel through a black hole to save the world from World War III" or, "And then they dive into the dreamscape of Adolph Hitler himself" or something equally insane. As it stands, the synopsis doesn't reveal any sort of a gimmick or any fantastical/supernatural/science-fiction twist at all. Will this really just be a straightforward adaptation of historical events after all? Is Nolan going full Saving Private Ryan?
It sure seems that way. Perhaps, after so many years of making movies that are commercially successful, critically-acclaimed, but under-awarded, Nolan simply wanted to make something that would play better come Oscar season. And who can blame him? Despite two screenwriting nominations (for Memento and Inception) and one Best Picture nom (also for Inception), Nolan himself has yet to earn a nod for directing. And what better way to get the Academy's attention than with a gritty war drama?
But this is Christopher Nolan we're talking about. There's always a chance — heck, a probability — that he's hiding something up his sleeve. While Dunkirk is doubtful to have anything too science-fiction-y about it, it's possible that Nolan will employ some nonlinear narrative techniques similar to his work with Memento, in order to emulate the fractured nature of the hectic evacuation and the PTSD that the Allied soldiers were undoubtedly coping with.
We likely won't get a real sense of Dunkirk's true scope until the trailer hits. And even then, we won't know everything Nolan has in store for us until the movie actually premieres on July 21, 2017.