Director Christopher Nolan is known for creating movies that force viewers to think deeply in order to grasp what is happening, and Tenet does not disappoint. Opening with an attack on an opera house in Kiev, the audience is given their first glimpse of what’s to come when a bullet hole in a wall repairs itself—the bullet flying backwards, almost as if the shooting is being rewound. In the scenes to follow, viewers are given little to no context of what is happening, except for the fact that the main character is being stealthily evacuated from a hostage situation after attempting to consume an object that the audience later learns is a suicide pill (obviously it’s fake but he doesn’t know that at the time). He is given specific instructions for his escape and one word: “Tenet,” which is said to “open the right doors” and “some of the wrong ones, too.”
As the film progresses, viewers get just a bit more acquainted with the main character, thoughtfully named “The Protagonist.” He is a CIA agent who would rather die than betray his position—a sentiment that landed him in his specific role in the operation at hand.
What is the operation at hand? No one knows—even those attempting to explain are very vague with their words, saying only that someone in the future found a way to reverse time and is trying to create something “worse than a nuclear holocaust.” This is demonstrated when The Protagonist is able to catch a bullet with a gun as opposed to shooting it.
During the film, a concept of a “temporal pincer” is illustrated—essentially, this is a battle that is fought or a scene that is enacted with the characters moving forward in time while their future counterparts are moving backwards.
The entire movie centers around Andrei Sator as he attempts to move backwards in time to put together a device that will, in some scientific and time reversal related way, destroy the world. The Protagonist’s job is to stop him from doing that, all while not knowing what exactly he is doing. In true Nolan fashion, other characters seem to know more than the main character, and this is tied up into a not-so-neat little bow as the film comes to a close.
Tenet, in its entirety, is an extremely confusing film, but because it is directed by Nolan this does not come as a surprise and can hardly be critiqued. Instead, viewers should go into watching the film with the intention of intense concentration and the awareness that they will leave scratching their heads.
As a whole, Nolan does a fantastic job illustrating the complex concept of “Tenet” which itself is a temporal pincer. The whole movie is an inverted version of itself, which, despite utter impossibility is brilliant.
The filming of the movie is well done—the picture is clear and, for the most part, the audio is too. With that being said, there are scenes in which characters are wearing masks and their words are muffled—this seems to be intentional but only adds to the difficulty in understanding what is actually going on. The idea of both past and future versions of each character acting in one scene happens a few times and is confusing as well but is also intentional.
Violence is prominent throughout the film—there are numerous scenes where characters are beaten to death or where battles take place and people are shot dead. Sator is a very evil man—he is seen beating his wife and spitting on her and beating a man to death with a gold brick. With that being said, there really is no gore; all of the violent deaths depicted seem to be out of view of the camera in some way or another. Surprisingly, there isn’t very much blood at all, even when Sator beats other characters.
Overall, Tenet is a very well-planned and well-executed movie, but it’s not one for the faint of heart. The film is filled with murder and attempted world destruction as well as scenes that will have viewers reading explanations and fan-theories for days. With brilliant camera work and actors that make the movie come to life, Nolan outdoes himself within the genre of mind-bending stories.
Tenet is not Dove approved.