Kevin P. Sullivan
July 13, 2017 AT 03:00 PM EDT

There’s been a common refrain among filmmakers — action directors in particular — over the last couple of years. Ever since George Miller returned to his burnt-out wasteland of a future for Mad Max: Fury Road, the bar for cinematic thrills has been raised. Edgar Wright spoke with Miller before taking on Baby Driver, and now Christopher Nolan has shared how his new film, Dunkirk, was influenced by all of that fire and chrome.

Dunkirk (out July 21) may not seem like an obvious descendant of Fury Road at the outset, but in crafting the structure for his retelling of the famous 1940 evacuation, Nolan hit on a point of view that he wanted the story experienced through.

“Really before I had any of the details about how I was going to write the script, I had the structure mapped out and planned,” Nolan told EW. “Because I wanted a subjective experience and a visceral experience, I wanted to approach this not as a war story, but as a survival story.”

That meant avoiding some of the longstanding hallmarks we’ve come to associate with World War II movies. There aren’t generals packed tight into a room talking strategy over a big map. There are no letters from home or girls to get back to. There is only survival.

“This was going to be like the action of a third act of a film, but it’s the entire movie,” Nolan said. “There have been films that have done this in recent years, like George Miller’s last Mad Max film, Fury Road, is a bit like that, or Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, where you’re thrown into the present tense of a situation and you’re dealing with things as the characters deal with them, rather than too much discussion about where they come from and what they’re doing or too much discussion full stop.”

As a result, Dunkirk doesn’t have the rhythms of a typical Nolan movie, nor does it sound anything like one. Long stretches of the film play without any dialogue, and the result is purely cinematic, delivering a rush we haven’t felt since summer 2015.

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