Nolan perceives the world through a mechanistic mind, often preferring structure and symbology to characterization. Memento emphasizes its nonlinear, colliding timelines, making Leonard into an icon of obsession more than a protagonist; The Dark Knight reduces its hero and villain to moral extremes, which turn out to be two sides of the same coin; and Inception forgoes character development for mind-bending ambiguity. Interstellar was his best attempt yet at emotional storytelling but was too bogged down in the-power-of-love schmaltz and patronizing, pace-killing exposition to really hit home.

Then Dunkirk happened. Nolan recognized his strengths and made a visually captivating film seen through the land, sea, and air as experienced in a week, day, and hour, respectively. He also recognized his weaknesses and did away with one-note protagonists and script laziness in favor of an ensemble of real, ordinary people and an elliptical, detail-driven narrative. At an hour and forty-six, it's a fillerless, propulsive ride from start to finish thanks to the seamless editing of its three temporal threads and immersive, ever suspenseful sound design. And with a PG-13 rating, it manages to be visceral without viscera. Just pure human survival put to screen.

Dunkirk is surely Nolan's best-crafted film to date and an entry into what I (just now thought to) call the Spectacle of Feeling. It's too often one or the other―Hollywood blockbusters are SPECTACLE, European art films are feeling―as if the two are mutually exclusive. I contend the two are actually quite harmonious, but few filmmakers have truly grasped the notion. Cameron, Tarantino, Alien-era Scott, the Wachowskis, Wright, and recently George Miller have. I think Nolan's starting to get it, too.

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