Hans Zimmer is only one piece of the puzzle.
As Dunkirk most recently displayed, director Christopher Nolan wants to drum his tense perfectionism into his audience in every way possible – including the music. With melody deemed useless, or at least less useful than a more primal motif, the background score behind his protagonists is always a heated thrum.
Pulsing anxiety accompanies the wandering and wondering men at the heart of Nolan’s films, searching for meaning and hope in a world ready to offer them none. The beating rhythms are a cold reflection of their inner stress, which isn’t hot-blooded enough for horns, strident enough for strings, or complex enough for any combination thereof. It is simple and fearful, masculinity in crisis.
Essayist Oswald Iten, with the dry, accented delivery most closely resembling a happier (but not too happy) Werner Herzog, created an in-depth video utilizing the examples of Dunkirk, Interstellar, and Following to explain Nolan’s use of music to sonically externalize the emotions of his heroes.