John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Himesh Patel
Director: Christopher Nolan
“Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.”(IMDb)
»Currently in theaters«
What to Expect
The Dark Knight does James Bond
I Put My Thang Down, Flip It, and Reverse It
5-minute theoretical physics lessons
Why You Should Watch It
Tenet is dripping with Nolan’s signature style: the punchy, seat-shaking score; elaborate heists; fast pacing; and of course having no idea what’s going on but enjoying the ride nonetheless. The plot is as innovative as Nolan’s previous mind bender, Inception, and promises to be another hit that will be discussed for years to come.
Must See! (A)
Tenet was the first film I saw in theaters in over six months. I got into an early showing with my boyfriend and four other cinemagoers—all appropriately socially distanced—and proceeded to have my eardrums blasted for two and a half hours to the point where I was convinced I had just suffered minor hearing loss. My boyfriend, on the other hand, found the action movie the perfect opportunity for a nap, and passed out for the final 30 minutes, despite our recliners shuddering from the explosions and screaming. When I attempted to explain Tenet‘s denouement to him the following day, I realized that I had my work cut out for me.
I also realized that, much like Inception, this movie requires multiple viewings to truly grasp the plot. Yet, here I am, only one viewing in, trying to explain it all to you.
The Protagonist (Washington) is a CIA agent who noms on a suicide pill to get out of being tortured into giving up his men, but surprise! The pill didn’t actually kill him. But his act has done two things: 1. Now people think he’s dead, so he can move through the world…with the same face…undetected, and 2. He has proven his blind loyalty to the greater cause. His new contact gives him a new mission and a word, “tenet,” telling him it can open many doors, even though by my count he only used it once, 10 minutes later, and it only opened one literal door.
Tenet is a palindrome, meaning it reads the same way forward as backward. Much like the characters and objects in the film, it can move in two directions simultaneously. However, from the perspective of the person, they are constantly moving ever forward in time, it is everything around them that either moves with or against them.
The Protagonist discovers these futuristic-yet-Soviet-era-looking turnstiles that can reverse the entropy of a person or object—AKA inverting. As he frolics through time and space, he learns that there is an algorithm, rendered into a physical contraption, that once assembled has the power to invert the world and thus destroy everything—presumably because an inverted object cannot come into contact with its conventional self, and an entire planet is a pretty big object to invert (I’ve also read that the algorithm is just a way to wipe out the past and allow powerful actors in the future to build their own world. Whichever makes more sense to you).
Still with me?
In the climactic battle, Neil (Pattinson), who was originally part of the inverted pincer, goes through the temporal turnstile and moves conventionally. Even after the day is saved, he knows the fight is not over and goes to invert himself again. This is when we learn that he was the soldier who unlocked the gate and is killed so the Protagonist can stop the algorithm being sent to Andrei (Branagh). The Protagonist wants to save Neil, but also knows that in saving his life, the world will likely end. Neil also reveals that he and the Protagonist have known each other for years, and that the Protagonist was the architect of the entire mission (which explains Neil’s very sudden trust in him, and also knowing the Protagonist’s drink preference).
The way time travel is often portrayed in film and TV has always been a point of contention for me, because the story usually centers around changing the past. I personally believe that time is linear, and whatever happens at one point in time has always happened; it can’t be changed. If I travel to 1945 and kill Hitler, I am not changing the past. I have always been at that point in time in 1945, and people have always believed that Hitler committed suicide.
This is what I appreciate about Tenet. It’s not about changing the past, or splitting an event into multiple timelines. It’s all linear. The Protagonist drives by his own car accident, which by his perspective hasn’t happened yet. But then he inverts himself and ends up at the same point in time where it occurs. The whole chain of events that leads to his involvement in saving the world was set about by his future self going into the past. Nothing is ever changed because the events that unfold are all fixed.
Sure, there is no shortage of plot holes, not much in character development, and it relies on the complexity and wow factor of its premise to distract you from its flaws. But Tenet is an undeniably refreshing story, and it keeps you thinking long after the credits have stopped rolling.