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DUNKIRK: Editing the Suspense Snowball

November 1, 2019


This is suspense. We, as the audience, have enough information to figure out what might happen next. And we worry. Nolan: “We wanted the language of suspense, which is the most visual of cinematic languages. You can create empathy for a character just by virtue of the physical situation. You know, my feeling was that you don’t need characters to come on screen and, through dialogue, make the case for why you should care about them.” Just like the old masters Alfred Hitchcock and Henri-Georges Clouzot who both understood perfectly how to use suspense to give the audience enough information upfront so that they can fear for the character,… Christopher Nolan uses suspense throughout his films. “Just dive into “can they carry this guy on a stretcher across a plank without falling over like that?” But he does something more with it. And it has to do with the way he structures his films. He calls it ‘The Snowball Effect’. “And I wanted to try write a script so that you braid together the three storylines and they’re continually rising in anxiety, if you like, or intensity, and so as one is peaking, the other one is starting to build and the other one is entering the last phase of it. You’re looking at me strangely… I’m clearly overcomplicating!” Im gonna keep cutting the three different storylines, and here you can see how the movie is split up. In this video I’m going to look at ‘Dunkirk’ and how intercutting three storylines creates a continuous momentum of rising suspense. This video is brought to you by the Patreon members of This Guy Edits. I gotta be honest, when I first watched Dunkirk, I didn’t understand that each storyline is taking place within a different timespan. He set up this clearly with the slates, but it completely went over my head. And I think that’s true for many people watching the film. However, I don’t think it matters. But just to be clear, Christopher Nolan and editor Lee Smith intersect three timelines. The story that takes place on land over one week, focused on the roughly 400,000 British soldiers that are stuck on that beach desperate to get away while being picked off by German aircrafts. Then we have the story of a small boat with three civilians who are crossing the channel to save whoever they can. It stands for the 850 private boats that aided in the rescue. This story takes place over the course of one day. The third storyline happens within an hour and it’s about three spitfire airplanes that are trying to disrupt the German Luftwaffe. What I wanna show is that often times the events on screen are intercut where it feels like we’re in the same moment. But really we’re not. “Now!” Two different types of planes, one stays up, one goes down. Two different events at different locations at different times. But it feels like it’s the same beat. It isn’t 100% clear in what timeline we are at points. Things happen because the action seems to match, but the timeline doesn’t match at all. Like in this moment here, where the spitfire pilot sees the trawler, but the very next scene shows those same soldiers as they’re coming back to the beach, which is a moment that happened before they even discovered the trawler. What that means is that there’s the illusion of a story moving forward through parallel action, when in reality we are jumping back and forth in storytime. Now, why are they doing this? Well, we should look at how ‘Parallel Action’ is used in another film and why. In The Godfather, parallel action means ‘meanwhile’. And it’s there to heighten the audience’s enjoyment, by asking the question “How are two things related?” And it leads to a metaphoric connection. And irony. It’s not only the baby that’s baptized, Michael himself too… “Do you renounce Satan?” … with blood. “I do renounce him.” One half of the action is sanctified by God, the other one by the devil. So lots of meaning and irony in that scene. “Fortis, do you read?” How does this translate to Dunkirk? Christopher Nolan and Lee Smith are using parallel action to heighten emotions. The meaning, the contrast, and most importantly, the emotion, it comes down to ‘Point of View’. With each storyline, we gather information that the characters learn at the time. It’s very subjective. At 49 minutes, the last remaining Spitfire pilot confirms that his partner, who just got shot down, is okay. So the pilot, who is Tom Hardy in a mask, continues his mission. 19 minutes later we get to see the story again, but from sea level. “He’s down!” It’s only then that we realize that things are not okay at all. The shot-down pilot is struggling for his life. The way we feel about an event that we already experienced can change with the point of view. Uncertainty, confusion, lack of a top-level view on the story is part of heightening the anxiety for the audience. It brings them closer to the characters and their desperate struggle to survive. The structure of Dunkirk has a purpose. Now, Christopher Nolan takes a big risk with this. There are a lot of critics that have a problem with the level of confusion in this film. “So we got 48 minutes, we got 32 minutes and we got 18 minutes. That’s how it’s divided up. It’s interesting to look at it and see that you could apply this to your own editing. You can be open to be non-linear about it if emotionally it makes sense.” Editor Lee Smith calls Dunkirk an art film that is disguised as a blockbuster. And the gamble paid off. I only have one regret. It hurts me to know that I didn’t experience this film on the big screen. “An IMAX film frame, it doesn’t have an equivalent digital resolution because it’s an analog format with a random grain structure, but it would be about 18k minimum.” From this point forward I will go out of my way to see a Christopher Nolan film on the biggest screen possible. I have to thank John who left a comment on a recent video and inspired me to take a closer look at Dunkirk. And more so, I wanna thank my patrons. In about a month we will release the new ‘Science of Editing’ episode. Anyone who already is a patreon or becomes one by March 15th will find their name somewhere featured in the video. Not just a credit at the end, but in a creative easter-egg-style way. Thanks for watching.

100 Comments

  • Reply Dolphin Sea March 31, 2019 at 9:06 am

    https://youtu.be/C2eHpxOzjqY?t=105
    which softwer are you used ?

  • Reply kukú March 31, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Which software

  • Reply Christov T April 1, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Needs super computer for render all these scene.

  • Reply Aban Don Roby April 1, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    I couldn't watch the movie in IMAX…!!!!
    😥😫😣😥😢😟😞😭😩

  • Reply Gadi Gashotsi April 3, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Hello that's so professional…

  • Reply Innocent kunda April 4, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Very informative

  • Reply TMT Official April 4, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Wow definitely brilliant 🖖🏻

  • Reply Mas Pras Channel April 5, 2019 at 6:41 am

    If an airplane gonna bomb me, absolutly im gonna run, not sleep on the ground.

  • Reply dani maker April 5, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Still watchtower of turkey takes lead. This movie doesn’t match up even till the foot of it. That spins your mind around. I did not like this one bye

  • Reply S&S films April 7, 2019 at 6:42 am

    I want to release my movie in theatre and my editor , edited in MP4 , can I convert the file in mov ?? And after converting will it lose the quality ???

  • Reply Angelo Cella April 12, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Dunkirk is one of those films that everybody call a masterpiece but that anybody will ever rewatch.
    I found it boring.

  • Reply Wil Agaton April 16, 2019 at 4:16 am

    I was deeply moved by Dunkirk. I personally dont get the criticism about not having character developement. I understand where they are coming from, but I dont think they are taking it in the film's context. I serve in the armed forces of my country, and they depict interaction between soldiers as real as it gets. The bond of comraderie you see in something like Saving Private Ryan can only come from serving together for an extended period of time. But being deployed the first time, young and inexperience, this is how you build those bonds. We dont immediately become friends, share life stories. We are just there, trusting each other because we dont have anyone else.

  • Reply Hritvik Jadhav April 16, 2019 at 5:09 am

    Aapko kyun nhi mila oscer

  • Reply Zarius Davis April 17, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    Something I’m beginning to realize and notice is often filmmakers think of things much too cerebrally when it comes to creating emotion they treat it like a math problem if I do this then this the audience will this and often I find myself thinking especially when watching video essays “do you actually feel like that?” In the beginning of this video I don’t think anyone who watches films regularly was surprised when the protagonist didn’t get blown up like no suspense was created for me at all because I knew he wouldn’t get blown up. Did that moment create suspense for you personally or is that just what you know to be what they were trying to do?

  • Reply Aaron Sanders April 18, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    Nah Bohemian Rhapsody is real Oscar winning dialogue

  • Reply meltingriver April 18, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Nolan turned a bit self indulgent with this one.

  • Reply VisHal PraTap April 18, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    Best after Saving private Ryan

  • Reply Nadun Dissanayake April 19, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    thank you for everything

  • Reply Jeben Taob Photography April 20, 2019 at 11:38 am

    What application is being used?

  • Reply AHS Society April 20, 2019 at 11:44 am

    I think the film was an orgy of suspense, which I think is questionable. I do not think it reflects his best work.

  • Reply AHS Society April 20, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Yes he is smart, I also did not realize that time thing. It is neat. but makes no difference. A good film is so much more than a bunch of good sfx, dialogue, lighting, score, devices. They can all be good in their own right but still make an average film. good film is more than the sum of its good parts.

  • Reply AHS Society April 20, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    it's called Juxtaposition

  • Reply Purplewings Storyteller April 21, 2019 at 10:02 am

    +this guy edits
    Can u make a different point of view on editing? There are ton of ppl who were utterly confused by the film & hated editing. Just like the film, can we have a fair rational view at this film by the ppl from opposite spectrum. who hated it?

  • Reply BoxBeater April 23, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    You should do a video about bohemian rhapsody and it’s “Oscar winning editing”

  • Reply DanToruno April 26, 2019 at 4:00 am

    First video I've seen from this channel, loved the breakdown. Subbed!

  • Reply Misfit Hustler April 26, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    I could clearly remember when I saw this movie at the cinema, it's probably the ones that stressed me the most. These air attacks, while British soldiers were running and hoping to stay alive, became more and more unbearable as time went by. By the last attack, only the roaring sound of the aircraft engine was enough to throw me again in that anxiety state – this is crazy storytelling without a word. This movie took me by the guts, literally. It's not a movie that makes you think, it's a movie that makes you FEEL. Thanks for the brilliant breakdown!

  • Reply Knockeye April 28, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Let’s just be honest he failed to make strong metaphorical connection with the parallel filming style. Despite the films beauty and sound design he gets a C on story.

  • Reply Manu Reddy May 1, 2019 at 3:17 am

    FCP X?

  • Reply DR MELANIN May 3, 2019 at 2:24 pm

    Your channel is so different! I love the breakdowns!!

  • Reply Arvind Balajee May 7, 2019 at 3:52 am

    How did you import a movie into your timeline? Can this be done in premiere pro?

  • Reply 403 Production May 8, 2019 at 2:02 am

    Amazing Movie

  • Reply Taran van Ess May 13, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    insert name here ahahah

  • Reply Jan Tore Sorensen May 16, 2019 at 12:53 am

    I was at least able to watch it in cinema, but man, a projected 70mm viewing would be an experience.

  • Reply green alien May 16, 2019 at 4:26 am

    You sound like the guy from lemmino

  • Reply Nikhil joshua May 16, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    i watched dunkirk in IMAX 70mm…i could not stop stop myself from watching it 5 times

  • Reply Comical PK May 17, 2019 at 2:18 am

    Which software ?

  • Reply MG1OG FILMS May 17, 2019 at 5:46 am

    Biggest regret not seeing this when it released. I had seen it afterwards and I was fixated the entire way thru.

  • Reply Leos Fortune May 18, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Dunkirk was the shittiest movie ever made by Christopher nolan

  • Reply Nicolai Kystaubayev May 20, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Can somebody please tell me what software that is? Thanks!

  • Reply James May 24, 2019 at 11:39 am

    The different time spans, in my opinion, at least should be in some form of dialogue of the 3.."It shouldn't take longer then 60min", "I'm guessing a week", "24 hours!" Perhaps just visually even..a newspaper… By making a film that plays with time, time becomes a theme, and hopefully a point. Why was "time" a pivotal point to THIS war.

  • Reply Alex Cio June 2, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Great shots!

  • Reply Jayden V June 4, 2019 at 4:45 pm

    I can see what Nolan was trying to go for but IMO he didn't execute it well enough. LOTR is a movie that cross-cuts beautifully with just sound design and builds tension

  • Reply Sam Newton June 5, 2019 at 2:11 am

    I manage a movie theater, I was fortunate enough to watch this on our largest screen alone. Outstanding movie.

  • Reply ÌT'S ÅDÃRSH June 7, 2019 at 4:12 am

    Wow nice

  • Reply Enricho Muhammad June 7, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    Why the last pilot didnt jump from the plane so he doesnt down in nazi's army?, Sorry for my rip english 🙁

  • Reply Rudy Fisher June 8, 2019 at 12:18 am

    3:15 isn't that just called bad editing? I mean, if the audience literally can't understand the film…

  • Reply Devidas Indurkar June 8, 2019 at 5:08 am

    Which Software used for Editing in this Video?

  • Reply Gorrus June 8, 2019 at 11:17 pm

    What editing software is that?

  • Reply Isch bin de Kalle June 14, 2019 at 11:58 am

    This dislike is brought to you by : me

    Have fun

  • Reply Qilt June 14, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    3 different stories, intertwined and linked into one main story.

  • Reply Julius Kolb June 14, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    Are you German? You haven't got an German accent but pronounce the "Luftwaffe" perfectly…

  • Reply ghostbaum June 15, 2019 at 2:54 am

    Dunkirk was an amazing movie. I totally understood the different timelines and instantly thought of Nolan's other films like memento

  • Reply LucidRecords June 15, 2019 at 3:01 am

    Hands down the best director in out time, his way of story telling is just amazing. Interstellar, the dark knight trilogy, and dunkirk are just the defeninition of story telling done right.

  • Reply 12 Lensa June 15, 2019 at 4:07 am

    I subs this channel because this video

  • Reply It’s Lusion June 15, 2019 at 8:05 am

    It was so loud and real in theaters

  • Reply BaconMan June 15, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    This movie in theatres was a crazy experience. The sound design was phenomenal, the ambience of the film was stunning as well. I was just in awe the whole time with no idea what was going on haha

  • Reply Tekxz June 15, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    when you first pulled up final cut i was like… no?

  • Reply Jude S-D June 15, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    This movie was sad from my great grandfather being in Dunkirk in the war

  • Reply Benjamin Hillware June 16, 2019 at 2:41 am

    Omg this movie in IMAX was the most stressful thing I've ever watched…
    In a good way👌

  • Reply Kynan June 16, 2019 at 7:24 am

    This movie was boring…

  • Reply First Touch FM June 16, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    I didn’t fully understand this film at first, but I still loved it. Now I understand it and I love it even more

  • Reply FLR music June 17, 2019 at 9:46 am

    really nice stuff

  • Reply pradeep gautam June 19, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Nolan is next cameron

  • Reply Manikandan S June 19, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    I like kistber nonal all fillms

  • Reply Cody Todd June 20, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    The timeline is Dunkirk is not confusing at all. At least no more confusing than other Nolan films (Inception, Memento). Not only did the shifting timelines heighten the suspense, but it also provided several "ah ha" moments when the timelines converged, like in the shot down Spitfire or when the small boat passing the loaded cruiser that did escape the Mole.

  • Reply Ashutosh Dube June 23, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I have the same regrets as I've watched this movie on laptop.

  • Reply DuhIts Alondra July 3, 2019 at 1:17 am

    What does he edit with😭

  • Reply Kunal Kamble July 16, 2019 at 6:41 am

    I was lucky..I saw Dunkirk in Imax 1st day 1st show.great experience.😍

  • Reply J RICO July 16, 2019 at 9:07 am

    実験的な手法で映画の可能性を押し広げた👍

  • Reply Sunni Press July 16, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Which software is it?

  • Reply Social Youtube July 22, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    subscribe to my channel

  • Reply Silent Observer July 23, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    Kisi ne manforce ki ad dekhi ispe?

  • Reply Wayne Winky July 25, 2019 at 10:54 am

    What a masterpiece. When Tom Hardy in that spitfire has to take out the bomber with Hans Zimmers powerful music pounding out. Just that shot of the plane swinging into shot with the ship below in the distance, and the camera angle/shot is directly behind the spitfire, along with the powerful score booming out behind it! Goosebumps every time. Never felt tension like it – perfection!

  • Reply ROBIN QIAN August 1, 2019 at 11:08 am

    nice job – nolan

  • Reply Yella wolf August 5, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Where can i get the editing software could you please mention .

  • Reply Tonton Hawk August 13, 2019 at 1:12 am

    Amazing.. Very inspiring video..

  • Reply Art Photo August 22, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    An art film disguised as a blockbuster ❤️❤️❤️

  • Reply miniRASS August 23, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    hmm dunkirk was so so for me. memento is a different monster

  • Reply COC CHAMPS August 27, 2019 at 9:38 am

    You clearly editing a 4k Blu-ray or something like that…. Just split the scenes and audio.

  • Reply fingerhorn4 August 31, 2019 at 11:18 pm

    One of the worst films I have ever seen, and that includes other threadbare artless films by for example Peter Jackson which were bad enough. A large budget, large format, large screen and an artless score mixing incoherent pseudo synthesised tat with hacked Elgar (slowed down a hundred times to no good purpose) does not make a decent film. There are hundreds of cheaper, more authentic, less pretentious films that tell the Dunkirk story a thousand times better. Unfortunately many people are duped by pretension and grindingly dreary film direction and confuse it with "art". Worse still, it employed decent actors who had to speak from a torridly bad, mangled script and who no doubt were embarrassed to be associated with this waste of celluloid.

    Nolan insisted that this film was about subjective recall from a few characters, not the big picture. That would have been ok except there were a handful of one dimensional characters who were forced to deliver the most unconvincing drivel of tortured, implausible "dialogue," entirely absent of authenticity or believability. At various points I actually thought it was a satire on terrible film making, Monty Python style.

    Just so you don't think I am a lone voice, please do read some truly terrible reviews elsewhere, which I tend to agree with. Here is just one of many: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/jul/26/bloodless-boring-empty-christopher-nolan-dunkirk-left-me-cold

  • Reply DODI VINES September 6, 2019 at 3:00 am

    which software Are they using

  • Reply sachin s hiremath September 8, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    I didn't enjoy/like the movie because I didn't know regarding the time framing of 3 stories. And this video made me understand this. Thank u. And I am going to rewatch the movie keeping this in mind.

  • Reply Ronald Mcdonald September 10, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Budget bro budget

  • Reply Rxbsii September 10, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    The german Luftwaffe xd

  • Reply Mausacredit September 13, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Die gute alte German Luftwaffe

  • Reply NeOn X SpEeDz September 16, 2019 at 6:28 am

    the part filmed in Britain is my town

  • Reply Bob dabiuld September 16, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    That movie was so damn confusing. Cool looks, but the plot requires like 3 watches to get…

  • Reply Exploring Together! September 17, 2019 at 11:06 am

    Ah shit man, really didnt wsnt to stop watching the video but I just haven't seen the movie. Will come back once I've seen it. Looks interesting af

  • Reply Micheal Turner September 18, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    What do they use for editing

  • Reply Seswangs September 19, 2019 at 1:46 am

    Christopher Nolan is a boring director. He focuses on the cinematics instead of the story. Dunkirk was flat!

  • Reply WE WANTS IT WE NEEDS IT September 22, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    To be honest, I was expecting this movie to be something like Pearl Harbor or Saving Private Ryan. But it made me realize that war movies is not just action films where they just shoot the enemy but it can also be suspense thriller about them trying to escape the conflict and survive. And I must say that it really worked on me. Especially the stretcher scene (yeah the stretcher scene). The soundtrack gave me feeling of time running out and got my heart pumping.

  • Reply TEUX September 27, 2019 at 11:00 pm

    what software is used for editing?

  • Reply Nick Polak September 30, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    great video! so useful

  • Reply Corliss Media2.0 October 2, 2019 at 12:18 am

    how did you get that sequence? I've always wanted to look at sequences of films I like. Is there a place I can go to to get them? Or, did you rip and cut the rip?

  • Reply I come from the Future October 2, 2019 at 1:28 am

    War means tremendous blood shed. Nolan stated, he doesn't want nor need blood onscreen due to his unbelievable ability of suspense …
    Well, he couldn't be more wrong.
    As laughable as the – not only bloodless, but damageless at all – shotgun shot of the guy in the bank in Dark Night was, as unreal does all the clean and resultless action in Dunkirk feel.
    A total waste of effort, just an empty sequence of people and vehicles moving around in great colors.

  • Reply puli kutty50 October 2, 2019 at 5:16 am

    Royal salute director sir 💪💪💪💪
    I'm from India tamilnadu

  • Reply Michal Olender October 4, 2019 at 5:44 am

    Nice!

  • Reply Pvks Maheeth October 4, 2019 at 11:10 pm

    Difficult to break that type of screenplay you did it

  • Reply Manohar Raj October 15, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Which is the software showed on the screen

  • Reply Shubh karman Singh October 30, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    Which editing software is used?

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