Everything We Know About 'Dunkirk', Christopher Nolan's WWII Movie

The teaser for the WWII drama flies into theaters this weekend, but what can we expect when it gets released next year?


Anytime a filmmaker as celebrated as Christopher Nolan does something, movie fans take notice. But Nolan is a rare sort. He’s got the film snob clout because of mind-bending indie favorites like Memento, cred among fanboys because of the Dark Knight Trilogy, and blockbuster appeal because of something like Inception. Which is to say, everybody loves or hates his work.

But who cares about all that right now, because the teaser trailer for his upcoming film, the World War II drama Dunkirk, was released this week. That means people will have a ton of questions about what to expect from this controversial filmmaker. But Inverse has you covered.

Here’s everything we know know about Nolan’s newest epic so far:

What’s it about?

The vaunted director is going back in time to World War II: to tell the harrowing story of the 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk, where over 300,000 Allied troops were saved from Nazi-occupied France. If a very vague and brief official synopsis is more your thing then, well, here you go:

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.”

Where is Dunkirk?

Dunkirk — or “Dunkerque” if you’re French — is a coastal town in the north of France on the English Channel where Allied troops made up of a majority of Allied soldiers were nearly surrounded following a German advance that forced their evacuation off the European continent. An evacuation plan, designated Operation Dynamo, singled out Dunkirk as a primary evacuation point due to its large beaches where troops could gather before evacuating.

Michael Caine isn’t in it and there doesn’t seem to be a dead wife character. You sure this is a Christopher Nolan movie?

Yes, this is a Nolan movie even though his good luck charm, Mr. Caine, is nowhere to be found. Caine has been in six of Nolan’s films, but other frequent collaborators, like Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, star in the ensemble drama.

Whoa, no Michael Caine? In that case, who else is in it?

Besides Hardy and Murphy, Nolan has assembled a ridiculously impressive ensemble featuring some of the best actors in the world. The cast includes Academy Award winner Mark Rylance and Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, as well as newcomers like Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, and Harry Styles.

Wait, did you say Harry Styles — that dude from One Direction?

Yep, the very same. It seems Harry has a lot of time on his hands now that 1D is kaput, and when one of the most talented film directors in the world comes calling for something other than your alleged singing skills you just have to answer. Styles is known for his flowing locks, and paparazzi photos from the set make it seem like the young Brit heartthrob fits in just as well if he were born over 70 years ago.

Why Does the teaser trailer look so gorgeous?

Nolan is a film guy – like literal film. He has an enormous amount of filmmaking clout so he’s able to shoot his big epic ideas on a format big enough to match it. Nolan has used the enormous IMAX film stock to shoot sequences for The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar before, and Dunkirk is no exception. The director hired cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, aka the dude that made all the space sequences in Interstellar so pretty, to try and do the same with his World War II drama. To get the job done he’s using a mixture of IMAX and 65mm film to bring the epic story to the screen.

Is Nolan using a lot of CGI for it?

In a word: Nope. Nolan is known for going beyond the extra mile to use practical effects for his films because the real thing isn’t the same as cooking up the same thing with 1s and 0s in a computer. This is the guy that actually had a life-sized version of a spaceship built to use in Interstellar. Nolan is going life-sized again for Dunkirk, but this time he had the production refurbish actual WWII-era ships to use on-screen. He’s even reportedly spending $5 million of the film’s budget alone to buy a vintage German Luftwaffe fighter to crash it for a shot in the final film. The production is also shooting on-location in France, Holland, the UK and Los Angeles.

But he’s not using entirely practical effects, right?

In a movie this big you can’t solely depend on practical effects, but you have to get the people who can make it look that way. It’s why Nolan brought in visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson, the visual effects, the guy who helped convince audiences that everything was a practical effect in George Miller’s new classic Mad Max: Fury Road.

There wasn’t music in the teaser. What’s gives?

That teaser was haunting, mostly because of the ticking clock and the sound of that incoming German bomber at the end. But there weren’t the normally bombastic tones of composer Hans Zimmer’s score. He’s responsible for the infamous InceptionBRAAAHMS,” if you remember correctly. So will there be “BRAAAHMS” again? Yep, Zimmer is back to deliver the “BRAAAHMS, but if the teaser is any indication things will be a bit more somber this time around.

When can I actually see this thing?

The summer movie season is a crowded space, so big historical dramas are usually reserved for an end-of-the-year awards-release window. But this is Christopher Nolan we’re talking about, and he does whatever he wants. You can feast your eyes on Dunkirk when it hits theaters on July 21, 2017.

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