Tenet ★★★★

“Pissing in the wind.”

My appreciation for Nolan’s most opaque work to date has only grown since last year’s initial viewing. This, I believe, can be attributed to my reconsideration of Tenet in the context of the genre framework within which the film is expected to operate. 

The cinematic action genre is predicated on the hero’s self-determination, his transcendence beyond the realm of plausibility. The action hero doesn’t merely navigate the artifice, he seeks to actively perpetuate change within it. Defuse the bomb, save the hostages, obtain the nuclear codes.

However, in a somewhat metatextually ironic twist, the action hero is but a victim of the Plot — he is animated by the necessity of conflict, otherwise he is rendered frozen in inactivity, useless. The action hero’s reason for being is the very thing he is textually depicted as fighting against. He fashions himself the author of his own fate, completely unaware that his path is pre-determined. The typical action film is therefore an uncanny exhibition of the hero’s (and by extension, our) perpetual desire for self-assertion and the denial it takes to fulfill such a condition. 

Tenet, on the other hand, candidly says that the Plot is eternal, recasting (or, perhaps more accurately, revealing) the action hero as merely a passive observer instead of an active agent. No matter what he does, whatever has happened has happened. The action hero is rightfully aghast at this loss of agency — his attempt to regain “free will” only results in the reification of what he has been told. 

I am compelled to consider Tenet to be “anti-action cinema” or “re-action cinema”, but these classifications seem to run contrary to the film’s wholehearted embrace of the action genre’s inherent determinism.

It’s action cinema stripped bare of its delusions of free will. It’s action cinema at its arguably most religious, encouraging the audience to have faith in fate, instead of rebelling against it.