History Rearranged: Christopher Nolan, ‘Dunkirk,’ and Time

Manipulating the past to inform the future.

Christopher Nolan is a master manipulator of time. Inception, Memento, The Prestige, Following, and Interstellar all utilize such manipulation as central facets of their narratives, either by moving within it, skipping over it, interweaving separate strands of it, fracturing and rearranging it out of order, confusing it, and sometimes even ignoring it altogether. In a Christopher Nolan film, not even the absolutes are absolute, and that in part is what lends to the mesmerizing viewing experience they conjure.

The director’s latest effort, the World War II epic Dunkirk, is another example of how meddling with time can take even the most straightforward, ripped-from-history story and make it into something original, unexpected, and in fact unpredictable.

In her first ever video essay – a fact that’s hard to believe given its quality – editor Tobie has dedicated eight minutes to Nolan’s sleights of time in Dunkirk. It’s informative and in fact imperative to understanding the loop-de-loops of storytelling at which the directer is so adept.

H. Perry Horton: @hperryhorton Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist