Dunkirk is Director, Christopher Nolan’s historical drama which revolves around the evacuation of allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II. If you haven’t watched the movie we promise that this article won’t be a spoiler for you.

Christopher Nolan is known for his unique narrative style and nonlinear storytelling abilities. Dunkirk is not an exception. The movie is already being praised as one of the best war movies to showcase the survival and resistance in World War II.

Dunkirk has many elements and lessons for content marketers. We have identified five key elements which you could incorporate into your next story.

5 Storytelling Lessons from Dunkirk

Nonlinear Storytelling

Nonlinear narrative is disjointed and doesn’t follow a chronological order. Christopher Nolan has used nonlinear storytelling across his movies like The Inception, Interstellar, Momento and more. For instance, Inception starts from the end and keeps the viewers hooked until the conclusion of the movie.

Nonlinear storytelling works for advertising as most content marketers perceive that purchase funnel follows a linear path while in reality, the decision-making process is more complex. Consumers today create their own path and move backwards and forwards in the funnel before making the actual purchase. For instance, Old Spice’s response video follows a nonlinear narrative line which keeps the viewers entertained and hooked into watching more videos.

Background Score

Christopher Nolan has collaborated with German Music Composer, Hans Zimmer for most of his previous movies. The film main title track ‘The Mole’ creates an auditory illusion which makes the listener feel that the pitch continuously ascends or descends but, in reality, it doesn’t seem to get any higher or lower. This auditory illusion is called the ‘Shepard Tone’ and Nolan has also used this technique in his previous films The Inception, Memento etc.

Advertisers can use auditory illusion to create a sense of excitement and anticipation in commercials or teasers for products.

Closer to Reality

Nolan wanted the film to be closer to reality hence has cut down on the number of CGI effects used in the film. The warships, fighter planes and boats used in the film are from actual war. The film was also shot on the beaches of Dunkirk to be closer to reality.

Advertising has to be closer to reality while using CGI is unavoidable but minimizing the usage helps the viewers to relate more with the event or situation in the plot.

Dialogues vs. Visual Imagery

Dunkirk’s seventy-six-page screenplay is half the length of usual scripts developed by Nolan. The plot revolves around survival and Nolan didn’t want additional dialogues to deviate from the core essence of the film. Dunkirk relies on visual imagery to propel the story and doesn’t share a backstory of the characters.

“The empathy for the characters has nothing to do with their story. I did not want to go through the dialogue, tell the story of my characters… The problem is not who they are, who they pretend to be or where they come from. The only question I was interested in was: Will they get out of it? Will they be killed by the next bomb while trying to join the mole? Or will they be crushed by a boat while crossing?”

– Christopher Nolan on the main purpose of the film

A great storyline should use visual imagery and physical situations to create empathy for the central characters in a story. For instance, if you have seen commercials from Thai Insurance they use this technique extensively in their ads.

The Language of Suspense

Dunkirk’s plot moves back and forth in time creating a sense of anticipation for the viewers. As Nolan explains its a game of chess where the viewers are supposed to guess the next move. Although the language of suspense is pedantic the team had to keep it little boring at times to balance it.

“What we’re doing is not a car chase, it’s a chess game.”

– Christopher Nolan

Suspense as a narrative genre has been used extensively in designing commercials. Suspense triggers anticipation and excitement for the viewer.


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