Dunkirk is one of Christopher Nolan’s least wordy films to date, to the point that the screenplay for the two-hour film clocks in at a slim 76 pages. But it was almost even shorter than that, with The Hollywood Reporter noting that Nolan originally wanted to skip the script entirely for his big-budget war epic.
This is per a conversation between Nolan and his brother (and frequent collaborator) Jonathan Nolan, printed in the recently published screenplay for the film. “I got to a point where I understood the scope and movement and the history of what I wanted the film to address, because it’s very simple geography,” Nolan says, saying he started toying around with the idea of not having a script at all. Talking to his wife and co-producer, Emma Thomas, he said, “I don’t want a script. Because I just want to show it, it’s almost like I want to just stage it. And film it.”
Given the number of moving parts the movie contains—jumping between multiple perspectives and three different acts during the Allied evacuation of the French coast—Thomas unsurprisingly looked back at her husband like he “was a bit crazy,” and “was like, okay, that’s not really gonna work.” Still, we have to assume Nolan—who also notes that he felt like he’d ”kind of mastered the form” of movies that derive their emotional punch from dialogue—won’t be dissuaded forever, meaning it’s only a matter of time before the first improvised war film yes-ands its way into theaters. (“Hey, can I get a suggestion of something that both defies, but ultimately exemplifies man’s inhumanity to man? Also, a kind of fruit?”)