Harry Styles
“And then you’ll fall into that hole over there and an explosion will finish you off. Got it?” Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros

It is the World War II epic to end all World War II epics, and the splendid Dunkirk (see our review) has so far made more than US$490 million at the global box office.

One big factor in its success is director Christopher Nolan’s insistence on verisimilitude, which extended to filming on the actual beaches of Dunkirk and using vintage aircraft and boats. And Nolan emphasised this point during a question and answer session at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday (September 10).

The 47-year-old said that the production even outfitted real tankers, putting his cast in the kinds of ships that the actual evacuees from Dunkirk would have ridden as they crossed the English Channel to safety:

“You could make a period perfect CG version [of a ship], but it wouldn’t feel as real. We felt that the matchup, the patina that computer graphics have is a very poor match for this kind of imagery from World War II…When those boys are out there on those beaches and explosions are going off, they’re going off. There’s no green screen. They’re in it.”

Nolan also explained the philosophy behind his pursuit of realism on the shoot, explaining that he believes his job as a director is to try to recreate the chaos of battle as closely as he can:

“I wanted to just put people there on the beach, put them in the cockpit of a spitfire. I didn’t want to cut to generals in rooms moving things around on maps. … When you look at the great World War II movies from the past, that tends to be the thing that dates them.”

Related stories: