Anwar Nass’s review published on Letterboxd:
There are a lot of good filmmakers out there today and throughout history that have enamored us with their stories for a long time. But storytelling has existed for far longer than film. So what distinguishes the great filmmakers from the good is how they use the medium’s unique qualities to enhance their story and make it exclusively presentable for film. Make it an experience that can’t be rivaled in any other way. It’s why Eisenstein’s use of montage is still so highly regarded and why Pulp Fiction’s non-chronological narrative remains so timeless. When playing with film techniques, you really end up playing with time and how it can be moved around and presented. Because what is film if not a form of time manipulation? Capturing a moment in time and experimenting with its mechanics and then presenting it at a later date. In a way it’s is our version of time travel and the most memorable films are the ones that learn to use those manipulation abilities in new ways. Whether it’s through visuals, editing or even sound there’s an almost listless amount of possibilities and it’s what makes watching films so exciting.
Movies are so appealing to us, for the most part, because they give us a window into a world that cannot exist in our realm of possibility. Whether it be in the mundane like a perfect marriage in a romantic comedy or the realm of fantasy going off on magical adventures. They can present foreign ideas, but they always need to be packaged in a way where we, the audience watching, can still comprehend it based on our understanding of life and the world itself. In Pan’s Labyrinth while she goes into a fantasy world it’s still grounded in our way of thinking. The Pale Man looks like something out of this world but still has the limbs and fingers that are based on our human anatomy because that’s the only way we understand it. The world of Game of Thrones is filled with dragons and magic that we don’t have, but it’s politics and dynamics between characters are based on human interactions and desires so we can still understand the characters and the plot as a whole. If you present something that’s entirely foreign from our way of thinking there’s no way for us to be able to follow along with everything. Or is there?
It doesn’t take the most observant of thinkers to see that Christopher Nolan loves to play on the idea of time in his films. With each subsequent film he seems to be trying to push the limit of where he can go with it before it gets too confusing. When we watch a film we’re able to slow it down, speed it up, and play things back. So why not incorporate those elements within the movie itself. We’ve seen him over the years play with the concepts of time inversion and dilation but now it was time for him to crank it up and bring those concepts all together.
After having seen Tenet, it feels like the next natural evolutionary step in his filmography. Taking all the successful experiments from his earlier works and putting them together into the one great specimen it’s been leading to all this time, his T-Rex if you will. While always playing with time and our understanding of it, his films always remained on the same plane of thought that we, the audience, were at with our understanding of time. With this movie he takes a step further and presents his high-concept ideas as they truly are. Asking us to put in the effort to try to think and interpret time in a way we aren’t accustomed to. And once we can get our minds into that place we’re introduced to things we probably would’ve never thought possible before in film. Action set pieces that bring a series of complexities that require active attention while still being highly engaging and thrilling. Plot devices that function out of the realm from what we’re used to, it’s not that the presentation of events is out of order, like Pulp Fiction, but that the events themselves are not constricted to our linear understanding of time. With this understanding we can get concepts of film where the beginning of a film can actually take place after the events of the climax or have the consequences of the climax induce an effect on the beginning. The film plays out like a loop in it structure and something like that couldn’t really happen without us having to actively get to a place of understanding with it.
I didn’t get into specifics of the film this time around as I’ve still only seen it once and feel I need to create a better understanding of the events before exploring them. But on a sheer level of audacity this film deserves so much praise just for the things it tries to do. Yes, you can point out some issues based on our understanding of story structure, and they’d be totally valid. But in an era where a lot of the big blockbusters are made more to protect business interests than artistic ones, in turn making them more formulaic and rigid, I see it as a sign of relief that we still have someone with access to that same level of budget and is trying things that are rarely even tried at a low budget level.
Even without fully comprehending everything on first go (not that you really have to), I still had a blast watching this. And I know I’m just going to come to appreciate this more and more as I process it more and watch it again and again. Maybe one day I’ll understand it enough to actually write about the events within the movie itself and what makes them so great.