I have no freaking idea what this movie is about, but let’s give a try, 3.5 readers.
At the outset, let me say this. Tenet isn’t a movie you watch. It’s a movie you study. It’s work, like actual hard work. It doesn’t have to be. You can just sit back and watch the pretty pictures fly by, but if you are one of those people who feels a need to understand what they are seeing, good luck.
I love Christopher Nolan films and applaud him for being ambitious. Even so, I postponed watching this one for awhile. Even when it was like one of the first blockbusters you could rent at the height of the pandemic, when Hollywood wasn’t really offering anything, I put it off because the trailers seemed so confusing and I knew it would be a lot of effort.
I actually did try watching it one time and after 20 minutes was like, “Nope!” Click. Not that it was bad, just that I’d had a long day and when I’m down for the count, I need something mindless to stream. Bring on the silly cat videos.
But I finally got through it. (BTW it’s two and a half hours long). So let’s talk about it. (SPOILERS – I think they are spoilers. Honestly, I may have no clue what happened here and what I’m saying doesn’t make sense).
John David Washington plays “The Protagonist” and that’s a pretty cool name for a secret government agent. He’s been recruited to serve in the Tenet program and as explained early on by a scientist, people from the future have figured out how to send objects from the future into the past. In this movie world, things from the future and the past have different energies or “entropies” meaning, and I’ll botch this, but meaning that everything is opposite. Things from the future, when they reach the past, move backward. (Why doesn’t this mean that things from the past move forward when they reach the future? Well, they do, but why isn’t it like fast forward? Well, things from the future that reach the past don’t move in super slo mo so alright, I just answered my own question.)
The scientist urges the Protagonist to not waste too much time trying to understand how this all works but just accept that it is happening. Personally, I have to believe that quote is also Nolan’s invitation to his viewers to feel free to just sit back, chomp on some popcorn and throw your notes and flowcharts away and just have a good time watching all this hullabaloo happen.
And a lot of wacky stuff does happen. You have bullets that have been already shot going backwards, from the hole in the wall where they are lodged, back into the gun. Car chases where cars drive in reverse (could happen now if the driver looks over his shoulder the entire time). Car crashes in reverse. People traveling through time to fight each other.
Oh, right, there’s some sort of overall plot about people from the future who hate people from the past so that’s why they are trying to kill everyone in the past and you might ask, well won’t that kill everyone in the future and the answer is the people from the future don’t believe that will happen so maybe they’re right and it won’t or maybe they are dummies and it will. Belief or “tenets” i.e. key parts of faith that you hold close and trust are true even during the darkest of times when no light can be seen is a big part of the film.
Add in a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) the arms dealer who sells the backwards bullets and is pitting the future and past sides together. His wife/hostage Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and the Protagonist’s BFF/fellow agent Neil (Robert Pattinson in a role where it looks like he’s really grown into himself as an actor and shed off his youthful Twilight years.)
I think the idea of past and present at war is an interesting concept. I think the idea of future people sending lethal objects to the past to kill the past peeps and vice versa is interesting and a new take on time travel. It gets confusing when our heroes and villains travel between past and future and there are rules, like you have to wear an oxygen mask because the air moves differently on so on.
I don’t know. It’s a new, different take on the time travel genre and I suppose we can’t give Nolan guff for being original in a world of reboots and sequels but wow, I have no idea what happens in this movie. While the effects are cool and it was intended as a summer blockbuster where the big screen explosions would have made up for the what the heck is going on plot and unfortunately it got sidelined due to covid.
John David Washington is really coming into his own as an actor too. Criticism is that they didn’t really tell us much about who The Protagonist is or any personal details but perhaps there just wasn’t enough time with everything else going on. He does have a budding romance or friendship or romantic friendship with the villain’s wife. There’s no sex scene (wouldn’t that be cool to see in reverse?) but and not to give a spoiler but there are times when she is in peril and you can tell the Protagonist really cares. That caring is just based on emotion rather than sex because they haven’t had any which makes it interesting. He wants to save her because he cares about her. There’s no promise of booty to come later upon risking his life for a successful rescue. Good for you, Protag. What a stand up guy.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Give a try but take the scientist’s advice and don’t try to understand it. Some of your questions will be answered if you watch long enough. Others won’t be unless you watch it again and again and honestly, I don’t have the time or brain power to do that. Others won’t be unless you venture into articles and videos by people who took the time to parse through it and figure things out.
A final thought. We do need faith, or to believe in tenets. Faith gets us through our darkest hours. Believing your happy ending is on the way – to keep exercising though the pounds never drop, to keep applying for jobs when the HR reps laugh at your resume, to keep writing blogs even when only 3.5 people read them…and yes, to keep watching a movie that begins with a scientist telling you to not attempt to understand for it defies explanation.