In a small corner of my brain is a folder titled 'things that have changed my life'. At 18, this list is currently rather small:
1. the 2016 BBC miniseries 'War and Peace'
2. series 1 of the ITV series 'The Durrells'
2. the novel 'Frenchman's Creek' by Daphne du Maurier
3. the 2017 film 'Dunkirk' directed by Christopher Nolan
When I choose to watch or read things I do not usually intend for them to have such a profound impact upon me. 'War and Peace', for instance, changed my life beyond comprehension. I cannot really tell you how it affected me in tangible terms, I think it just changed my perceptions and sort of expanded my mind with regards to human emotions. I'm fully aware of how pretentious that sounds, but nevertheless it is true. The story was told in such a raw way and I think there was probably something really touching and new for me in the way I could recognise universally-felt human emotions being experienced. I don't really know what I'm saying: the heart of the matter is that War and Peace changed my life in a way I didn't expect from the Sunday-night tv schedules. The same goes for the du Maurier novel.
Three of her books were bought for me a long time ago, probably before GCSEs, and their existence consisted of sitting forgotten at the bottom of an ever-growing 'to read' pile that spurted up during GCSEs and continued to gain height throughout my A-Levels. Now it is summer, the strangely suspended period between A-Levels and the time in September which is unnervingly 'unknown'. Although everything rests dependently upon results day, I am working via assumptions and still looking towards September with the knowledge that I will be attending university - results day will inform me where it is I will be going for certain. Thus I am encompassed by a seemingly omnipresent need to ensure I am ready intellectually speaking. For some reason, summer holidays always come with a sense of guilt for me: my brain goes into an overdrive wherein I replay the last year of education and overthink all the wasted time spent scrolling mindlessly through Instagram - time I could've spent reading books, watching films and generally making myself 'culturally aware'. It's quite hard though. I wake up too late, I waste time on my phone, I get restless and am unable to just read, or pick a film to watch. Despite my difficulties I am still attempting to educate myself prior to September when I will enter a new world. Hence, I forced myself to read 'Frenchman's Creek' and experienced the real-life, physical action of being unable to put down a book. I read it in about a day and a half and was simply mesmerised. Whilst her writing doesn't necessarily appear overly-constructed or flowery on the surface (something which perhaps wrongly indicates to me I am reading a piece of 'literature'), it is what lies beneath the surface that captivated me. Again, it's how she writes about the human spirit and how she captures the core of human emotion so perfectly that kept me, to use a critic's term, 'hooked'.
All this explanation is getting away from what I really wanted to talk about. I'd like to preface this by saying that when my friends and I decided to book tickets to see 'Dunkirk' on Saturday night, the catalysing factor was Harry Styles' acting debut. Now, I'd like to add a sort of sub-preface and assure you that a Harry Styles obsession is an anomaly in my personality. When I admitted to one of my work colleagues a month or so ago that the reason I was rushing out in my afternoon break was to buy his new record on vinyl (don't worry - I didn't end up buying it) she looked at me with a sort of confusion mixed with disgust as her constructed image of me fell to pieces. My relationship with people I fancy (or to use my phrasing, 'People I Am Absolutely In Love With') often reaches dangerous levels. I don't know where this tendency in my personality has come from, or what, indeed, it has been nurtured by, but nevertheless it exists. After seeing the band Blossoms for the first time about a year ago I spent a solid two months checking Tom Ogden's Twitter likes on a daily basis and rather creepily checking through Blossoms' Instagram tagged photos to see everything they had been associated with (aka looking for traces of a girlfriend). Sometimes the obsessions will creep up on me without warning. Past obsessions include: Benedict Cumberbatch (sub-obsession Andrew Scott), Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy, the band Haim, Alexa Chung etc etc. Harry Styles however, didn't have any sort of root cause, and seemed like the kind of person I would normally despise. I hated One Direction at the height of their fame. Then James Corden did Carpool Karaoke with them, and Zayn left, and my friends and I became weirdly attached to the band, just as the hype was dying down. My spotify had to be set to private as I would listen to 'Best Song Ever' on a loop. We would spend sleepovers watching fan-created youtube videos entitled things like 'the real harry styles' which consisted of lots of clips badly edited together accompanied by comments by the fan themself in questionable choices of font. Then Harry announced his solo career and the obsession took full force. My friends and I would send each other interviews to watch, photos we'd found and would even have matching phone lockscreens with the latest photoshoot Harry had done. At 17/18 years old we were reverting to the 14 year old selves we never were. And when it was announced Harry was starring in Dunkirk, alongside the likes of Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy it was as if the universe was allowing our dreams to come true before our very eyes. Months went past as it featured regularly in our conversations: had we all watched the latest trailer?, had we seen the behind the scenes photos leaked from the set?, had we seen that short haircut Harry was sporting? A week before the release of the film, we had unintentionally planned a sleepover for the Saturday night, the night after the film was being released across the UK. We immediately booked tickets at the cutesy independent cinema in our town, and come Saturday night we were all more than ready.
We were excited for the film itself of course; as more and more trailers were released and articles began being published it became increasingly obvious that this was going to be 'A Good Film'. I was not aware however, of quite how good it would be. I'm often unable to sit down and write an explicit 'review' as I find myself repeating phrases and fumbling for things to say, so I shall be brief.
Whilst most films are often escapist, offering viewers a 90 minute interval to the rest of their lives, 'Dunkirk' acts as the polar opposite. The viewer is not passive: the act of watching the film is more of an experience. You leave the cinema and are forced to apply the garnered knowledge from what you have just seen to your daily life. It filters in to your perceptions, your outlook on the world, and as 18 year olds, the narrative played out in the film, told from the perspective of a handful of characters the very same age as us as viewers, meant the effect was arguably heightened.
But this is not the only way in which Dunkirk is not like other films. The narrative trajectory is different from the start: it's told in three different time frames, from three different story arcs. A day on the sea, an hour in the air and a week from the beaches. These stories eventually overlap, as the beaches become affected by the stories at sea, intertwining with the experiences with the air, and so on. It is because of this that there is no clear demarcation with regards to rising action, climax and catharsis. In service of realism, the rising action seems ever-present, constantly oscillating between brief interludes of confusion, quickly descending into panic - felt by the viewer in the form of a dangerously fast heartbeat. The film itself begins in media res and it never seems to leave it: five minutes in and the viewer is already rooting for the characters, in blind panic, and 5 minutes later, again, a new panic and suspense ensues and again rising action climbs quickly to its peak before starting again. The film is both a journey and an experience, and leaving the cinema at 8pm, walking the deserted evening streets of the town, felt rather strange in comparison.
As my friend remarked on the car journey home, Dunkirk saw her "fall in love with seven men". Harry Styles can remarkably, actually act, Fionn Whitehead, a newcomer, has you rooting for him from the first scene, Tom Hardy is incredible as ever, and faces from War and Peace - Jack Lowden and Aneurin Barnard - gave incredible performances. Near the end, I began to cry very quietly, hoping I would be able to wipe the tears away and stem the flood I knew was lurking underneath. As the final scene played out however, a steady stream of full-blown sobbing ensued. I'm talking proper, snotty, uncontrollable weeping. I cry at a lot of things (Love Island included), but I had never, until that moment, cried in the cinema. Both my friends proceeded to laugh at me, and I left the cinema with mascara streamed down my cheeks, feeling very strange about the world.
All in all, I recommend the film highly. I booked tickets so as to catch a glimpse of Harry Styles and I left wanting to watch the film again, wanting to stay in the realm of that world forever. It's now Monday and the film is still in my thoughts, and I am contemplating going to see it again.
In other news, I am sitting in my room surrounded by mess, after having gone through everything I have already bought and collected for university. I am now drinking coffee and am going to listen to the remainder of the podcast episode I was listening to before I decided on a whim to start blogging again.
Until next time,
things i have been enjoying recently:
- fashion documentaries: Dior and I, The First Monday in May, Bill Cunningham New York and the British Vogue series with Alexa Chung on Youtube
- podcasts: 'My Dad Wrote a Porno' and 'Private Parts'
- books: The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing and Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
- the film 'Okja' on Netflix
- albums: Something to tell you by Haim and Pure Comedy by Father John Misty
things i have not enjoyed recently:
- the film 'Frances Ha'
- the book 'The Great Gatsby' (i'm sorry - I just didn't get attached to it)