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.