I had the opportunity to watch Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk recently, and it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I really liked the interplay between the three parallel timelines, the sparing use of dialogue and the haunting cinematography but what I found really intriguing was their consistent use of the Akzidenz-Grotesk type.
What’s interesting is that Akzidenz-Grotesk is a late 19th century sans-serif typeface from a German foundry. At surface it seems ironical to use Akzidenz in a movie based on World War II with the chief characters as the British.
However, If you put some thought to it, maybe it isn’t so ironic. The primary emotion is pure faceless-terror. The terror is induced by the German forces, of which we don’t see so much as a shadow. The presence of German forces is only validated by dropping bombs, gun-fire or mass destruction Of ships. It’s terror, and there’s not just a minimalist character of violence attached to it.
What’d be the type of faceless terror to the British forces at Dunkirk? Akzidenz isn’t a bad choice for that. It’s got a ‘monoline’ structure, it’s pretty non-descript and it’s undeniably German!
The only other font that comes to mind is a much later released Helvetica, but then it wasn’t released until 1957, long after the Dunkirk evacuation, and was itself based on Akzidenz Grotesk.
However, during the inter-war period, a completely different sans-serif evolution was taking place in Germany, that of geometric typefaces and “Futura” is one of the most popular typefaces from the era. Having said that Futura has a lot more character than Akzidenz and the entire idea may have been to offer a less characteristic typeface, since the enemy doesn’t even appear on screen.
To me, it’s one of the best Type choices for a movie. The best part is, they remain consistent in its using. It’s the same typeface that is used in the credits and the same type face that’s used for titles.
For a typeface of faceless terror for the four hundred thousand soldiers stranded at Dunkirk, Akzidenz is a great choice.