Tenet

Tenet ★★★★★

Today is both a palindrome and an ambigram. 12022021 can be read backwards and forwards as well as upside down. What a perfect excuse to revisit my new favourite comfort movie and ramble nonstop about some tenets of its characters:

"We live in a Twilight world. And there are no friends at dusk"

Twilight is the time of day just between light and darkness. Perhaps an omen for the dark times ahead? The Pro's espionage world is in a twilight zone: not fully in the light but not yet fully in the dark. And dusk is maybe the dark future he has to avoid, there are no friends in that one. Wow, I really resisted the temptation to make a vampire joke!

"All I have for you is a gesture, in combination with a word - 'Tenet'. Use it carefully. It'll open the right doors, but some of the wrong ones too."

The TENET hand gesture symbolizes a handshake between you and yourself (foreshadowing The Pro fighting himself?) It represents the two flows of time interlocking, as well as light and darkness butting against each other for eternity. Like the hand gesture, the film acts as a singular work, locked into its own internal logic. It's a palindrome with precise structure, unable to be altered without it collapsing. Impenetrable at first, but yields many rewards on rewatches. Nolan’s movies are about filmmaking. He always tries to layer them in a way that they are more rewarding on rewatches. This one is specifically about rewatchability and the fixed timeline nature of movies. Whenever you play the movie, you are viewing a fixed reality of the film world - 150 minutes, locked in! You can scrub forwards and backwards through an unchangeable timeline. The physical form of the movie takes on the conception of time presented. The first time you watch it, you are The Pro - a confused rookie being thrown and tossed around with no idea what’s happening or why. The second time you watch it, you are Neil - you are in on the temporal pincer, coming in with a fresher understanding of what’s happening with the time mechanics. YOU GUIDE your first-time self through the story, just like Neil does. You help your past self understand the film, making it one of the most rewatchable movies ever!

“The bullet wouldn’t have moved if you hadn’t put your hand there....you made it happen”

Our actions make the difference. We have a responsibility with our free will. We have to try to do good, because if we don’t, the world will be overcome by encroaching darkness. The entropy of time going forwards and backwards is a metaphor for this: light vs darkness. Forward entropy (light), reverse entropy (darkness). As Neil explains in the Rotas container, the flow of forward entropy (light) pushing against reverse entropy (darkness), and that’s why reality continues to exist. Otherwise, end of play!

"A masculine front in a man's world has its uses."

A subtle example of why you have to throw away your expectations is in the India scene. The Pro goes looking for Sanjay the arms dealer. JDW and the audience EXPECTS this man to be the front for the arms dealing, but its revealed to be his wife Priya.....not what we and JDW expected. Priya's reveal is a misdirect telling us not to expect Inception pt 2....or to even expect a normal conventional movie. She's the M in Nolan's Bond movie!

"If I cannot have her, no one else can"

Here's what could have been a 'plothole': If Sator was trying to end the world with his death, wasn't the fact that the future was sending him the algorithm proof his plan wouldn't work? No more world means no more future to send the pieces back to Sator? WRONG. NOT A PLOTHOLE, but a character reveal. Sator believing he could control the future and change it like a god, in contrast to Neil believing the past and future were what they were, unchangeable, is what ultimately dooms Sator! Right after Sator attacks Kat, he feigns stepping on her face. The subtlety of stopping himself, is actually 10x more frightening than if he did - he's making her know that he owns her and she can't escape from under his foot! We probably have Jennifer Lame's editing to thank for that, besides Branagh's and Debicki's performances!

“What’s happened, happened. We’re just an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”

Nolan is fusing reality with the spiritual. The divine with the here and now. The FREE WILL of human beings to DO GOOD is what keeps the world moving. Time in this film is a block with no beginning, no end, all of it exists at once in a single moment, expanding in and out and upon itself, with seemingly no free will and where nothing can change. Yet people MUST STILL ACT to do good. Tenet is a paradox: you're not meant to have it solved for you like a Memento or Prestige.

"The policy is to suppress"

The relationships are suppressed because relationships can’t happen in the reality of a top-secret mission. A bromance blooms in the shadows, glimpses of a deeper emotional connection flicker by, but by the time it’s realized, it’s ultimately too late and always will be. A platonic relationship between a spy who can’t help but exude warm humanity and a woman trapped in an abusive marriage develops. Glimpses of their humor and chemistry peek through, but ultimately can’t be pursued. The reality of this film is: You can’t know each other; people pass each other by, focused on their jobs first, before each other. When people complain about lack of character, I don’t blame them. But IT IS there.

"My greatest sin was to bring a son into a world I knew was ending…”

Ironic that Sator's son MaximiLIEN then grows up to become NEIL who stops him. Neil is Nolan’s John Connor who becomes part of a future resistance, and simultaneously Kyle Reese (both are also blond BTW) who sends himself to the past. Kat gets a lot of flak for mumbling on about "her son". But I would argue that her son is her "tenet": he is the only thing she believes in!
Sator’s insane, ridiculous “You don't negotiate with a tiger! You admire the tiger until he turns on you and you feel its true fucking nature” monologue is just pure Bond villainy. KAT IS THE TIGER that turns on him and reveals her true nature. (Her name is literally Kat!)

"I am the Protagonist of this operation"

JDW is following a threaded fate predetermined and created by HIMSELF. Tenet is about coming into your own destiny. At the end of the film, The Pro goes on to set into motion every moment we see in the movie to ensure they save the world in the same way again and again. He is not only the puppet, but the puppet master. The Pro becomes his own God, creating his own reality.

"We all believe we'd run into the burning building. But until we feel that heat, we can never know. You do."

Ludwig Göransson's Turnstile track includes every significant character's theme when The Pro and Neil wheel Kat back to Oslo freeport with the burning 747 - Kat's theme plays at the start in snippets, Neil's theme in the 1/3 point on the piece along with the guitar bass from Rainy Night In Tallinn (Pro's theme) and 747's bits. So basically they're all intertwined just like this inversion they're carrying out - and the score illustrates this! Everybody was affected by inversion (Kat being shot, Pro fighting himself and Neil's inverted self finding out its the Pro himself.) We see more of the Pro's "path of least resistance" approach when he comes up with the 4-truck heist in Tallinn. I love how this was such a simple smart and effective heist, no high body count, almost like a pacifist route! He's like Ethan Hunt: Innocent Lives Matter!

"You have started looking at the world in a new way"

Priya and Ives keep reminding the Pro to stop thinking of things linearly, so too must we the audience stop trying to weigh this film against conventions like emotional resonance or narrative coherence!
Call me pretentious, but Tenet is a new genre. No arc, just plain hero saving the world. Its like watching people running in a maze from the outside. Its artistic decisions are interesting. Its flaws (yeah I am aware it has flaws, guys) are themselves interesting. Maybe Nolan's secret weapon is his pacing - seriously it just hit me this goofy spy movie's runtime is 2 hours 30 minutes? For what is movie pacing but an understanding of time as a resource in order to make your scenes count. And who has a stronger love for time than Chris?! A master balancer between the fast and the slow that feels like a fully realized whole, whether or not you care for his film!

Mike liked these reviews

All