Dunkirk vs. Saving Private Ryan: What is Your Screenplay About?

Jacob Krueger • August 8, 2017

This week we are going to be looking at Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan.

On top of being an extraordinary cinematic experience, Dunkirk is a particularly interesting script to look at as screenwriters, because it breaks pretty much every rule that you’ve likely been told about screenwriting or about filmmaking in general, or certainly about the war movie genre.

When we think about big budget war movies, we generally think about movies like Saving Private Ryan, movies about great heroism and winning the battle against incredible odds.

And yet this is a war movie that (for the most part) isn’t about winning but about losing. This is a war movie about a retreat, about a surrender, but also about the kinds of miracles that happen when people care about each other.

This isn’t a typical Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey about one great man, one great woman who saves the world.

This is a movie about a lot of little individuals.

Some of them are behaving bravely, and some of them are behaving cowardly. Some for their own survival, and some for the survival of others.