Wednesday, August 12, 2020



A CIA Agent known only by the moniker “Protagonist” (John David Washington) seizes an unknown artifact during a Kiev opera house bombing. He is saved from being shot by an unknown soldier who “unfires” a bullet. After the event, the Protagonist is captured by a pair of mercenaries, later realizing that the whole ploy is a test of loyalty for his recruitment by an organization called TENET. A scientist explains how they are trying to prevent World War III, which will be very different from the imagined nuclear showdown from world wars past. A mechanism has been invented in the future to reverse the entropy of matter, meaning objects and people can now move backwards in time. Their mission is to figure out how Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) factors in the equation. With the help of his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson), the duo decides to use Sator’s wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) to get closer to him and find out what role he plays in this high-tech war between present and future.

Are you trying to tell us something, Christopher? We’re here, Christopher, talk to us. How many syllables, Christopher? Can we buy a vowel, Christopher? Why you do this to us, Christopher? You have a copy of Idiot’s Guide to Watching Tenet on Your Own, Christopher? Oh no, I lost the plot, Christopher. Brain stopped, Christopher. Send help, Christopher.

Tenet is your classic Nolan feature, meaning an overwhelming mix of action and philosophical reflection that gives you a 2–3-hour long dilemma. You are left with two options: 1) Should I leave my brain at the door and just extract whatever entertainment value I can from this film without trying to understand what the heck it is about; or 2) Should I try to understand and solve this puzzle Nolan has laid out in front of me and just not pay attention to all the reverse explosions and the like to titillate my brain?

The problem is I never reached a middle ground and got stuck in Nolan limbo somewhere. Inception was literal mindfuck, while Interstellar dealt with some hardcore astrophysical concepts that are not easy to grasp either, but both movies are easier to follow than Tenet. Don’t get me wrong, though. Tenet is still an enjoyable popcorn flick. Maybe the reason for the bewilderment is that not a lot of people would happen to be familiar with the theoretical physics concepts such as entropy and the like.

In an attempt to comprehend the premise, your brain then simplifies matters by generalizing that it has something to do with reverse everything. Get caught in an explosion? You freeze instead of burn because you are inverted. You are not firing a gun, you are unfiring it by catching a bullet with it. The birds are flying backwards. Once the mechanism is established, you can then go ahead and enjoy the Time Pincer mission where the two forces try to outwit one another by sending a strike force forward in time and sending another one going backwards, simultaneously. Please don't shoot me, I didn't write the screenplay.

I know, it’s hard to comprehend. By the time the final act rolled in, my brain was ready to commit suicide that we just agreed on admiring the reverse explosions and reverse collapse of the buildings instead. This concept is not really new, you know. Dark already gave us a taste-test on Netflix. Perhaps the problem with Tenet is that they have to jampack everything into two and a half hours, quite long for a movie by the way, which does not give you much time to think it through because there are neither episode nor season breaks for you to delve deeper into the premise.

Anyway, I tried to understand some of the loops created by all the turnstile-hopping. Kat “went back” in time and then there are suddenly two of her, but the Kat in the timeline she hopped onto would eventually follow the same path the other Kat took, which is back in time. So I suppose that new Kat just takes over herself on that timeline when the Kat there goes back in time. Neil dies, and I don’t really know how his cycle goes on. Please don’t even bother asking me about the Protagonist. I have no idea. Full stop.

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