Christopher Nolan has never been shy about challenging
audiences with unique musical scores in his movies.
For 2010’s “Inception,” composer Hans Zimmer took Nolan’s
reference in the script to Edith Piaf’s song “Non, je ne regrette
rien,” and slowed it down to create one of the major musical themes of the movie.
Then Zimmer and Nolan’s collaboration for 2014’s “Interstellar”
led to the movie’s powerfully haunting organ
Nolan is constantly thinking about the music for his films at the
script stage, and his latest, “Dunkirk,” is no different.
“Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch
that I own, with a particularly insistent ticking, and we started
to build the track out of that sound. And then working from that
sound, we built the music as we built the picture cut,” Nolan
But the score went beyond having just a ticking theme for the
story, which tells three different timelines surrounding the
evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk, France. To build the
drama of those three stories coming together for the movie’s
dramatic conclusion, Nolan went back to a musical technique he
played with in one of his early movies.
“There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a
‘Shepard tone’ and with my
composer David Julyan on ‘The Prestige’ we explored that, and
based a lot of the score around that,” Nolan said. “It’s an
illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a
corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never
goes outside of its range. And I wrote the [“Dunkirk”] script
according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in
such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity.
Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar
mathematical principals. So there’s a fusion of music and sound
effects and picture that we’ve never been able to achieve
Perhaps what makes this score by Zimmer the most powerful out of
his Nolan projects (a collaboration that goes back to “The
Dark Knight” franchise) is the limited amount of dialogue in
“Dunkirk.” Zimmer’s ticking score doesn’t just heighten the
thrills, but explains what’s going on in the scene as much as the
Listen to a portion of the “Dunkirk” score
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