Tenet ★★

I try to restrain myself from the ultra-negative fanboy trolling that comes with Christopher Nolan movies, but I haven't loathed something quite like this in, possibly, my entire life. It isn't just Nolan's "schtick" that bothers me; it's his complete abandonment of anything but that "schtick" in a movie that becomes so overwrought with this unnecessary indulgence and, ultimately, disappointment. As a filmmaker, Nolan's highs are high-- executing excellent action sequences, creating blockbuster movies without IP attached, and thrilling uses of practical stunts and tactile set-pieces. But, Nolan's lows are also low-- over emphasizing uncomplicated story gimmicks as radical innovations, bland dialogue in all his characters' mouths (especially the oversimplified females'), and questionably inspiring a generation of dorm-room-psychology wannabes. Tenet succumbs to the latter of Nolan's tendencies. No, not just succumbs to them, but they engulf it. Like Matthew McCoughnaughey entering the black hole. Nolan's ambition to blow minds and connect puzzle pieces outweighs any adherence to storytelling, emotion, or even simple audio mixing.

Many reviews and supporters of the film seem to reference the same piece of dialogue that's used as a shorthand to explain time inversion, the film's central conceit, to John David Washington's The Protagonist (invert a bullet straight through my skull for even typing that sentence)-- "Don't try to understand it, just feel it." I can't think of a more brazen, idiotic subjugation for both this movie plot and my experience as a viewer. Sure, not all movies are about following a logically succinct plot and operate more as an abstract evocation of emotion. Films like Dazed and Confused, The Big Lebowski, Goodfellas; all instances where the plot comes secondary to the feeling evoked as you go along for the ride. Tenet is the farthest thing from a movie I just need to "feel." There is nothing beyond this film besides the convoluted machinations of its plot. My investment as a viewer is solely dependent on following these characters through this mission. Take the plot away and each character is bland, any subtext or themes are absent, and sure there's some type of motif of palindromic time loops and paradox throughout, but to what effect? Even if I did understand what was happening in this movie, I don't know what I was to gain from it.

Nolan's filmmaking is ambitious as always, and I should recognize him for that. As I rant about the movie, I realize this is far from being the worst movie. Nolan is talented, I don't dispute that, but that's what makes it even more frustrating. Nolan's ambition for the elaborate leaves him with something far more inscrutable. This movie just does not make sense, and no, I don't mean the science doesn't "make sense." I'm sure Reddit threads will offer explanations and charts to explain what actually happens in the plot, and that's great. I'm sure the facts check out, and there is some logically sound explanation out there somewhere, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I mean that, as a viewer watching the events unfold, they do not translate into a reasonable, and ultimately unentertaining, story. Too frequently, I found myself questioning even the simplest of actions with no context for this world or its rules or its characters' motivations. It's not because the science is complicated. It's because the movie is bad. In part, it's also because of the shotty audio mixing that drowned out some of the marginal attempts at expository dialogue. In some of his other ambitious stories, Nolan at least takes time to establish things like stakes and causality, however ridiculous they may seem. Tenet misses that completely. From the start, I could not get the slightest grasp on the story. I struggled to find any connection with the characters. Worst of all, I found myself sitting there with no investment in the action sequences. Which, at the very least, is the saving grace of Nolan's previous overindulgences. Incoherence overtook any simple enjoyment and only led to frustration.

The movie made me question my own literacy as a film viewer. And no, not in the gotcha style ultimate mind-melting puzzle Nolan may have intended. If anything, it's the opposite (or in this case, the inversion?). I didn't have my brain broken by this puzzle; I was handed a broken puzzle and expected to accept its flaws as complexities. Maybe in time, I'll come to appreciate Nolan's convoluted creation, but after watching this movie, I'm not really even sure how time works? Or should I say... when it works?... or something, I don't know, was that the message here?