There was once a time when I would have seen Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s not-so-new newest movie, on a massive Imax screen, because hey, he shot it in 70mm and Imax, and he’s making original films instead of comic book adaptations, and even though I don’t often like his movies, they usually at least seem worthy of gaping at for two hours.
Tenet I saw a year after it was originally supposed to open. On my TV. And I’m fine with that.
The title of this piece is exactly how I would describe the movie, in its entirety: Look out! Some things go backwards! If you’re saying to yourself, well, surely there’s a more detailed and fascinating explanation of what’s going on to be found in the film itself, then I’ve got bad news (or good news?) for you: there isn’t. That’s literally the depth of it. Granted, a lot of words are expended explaining that one ought to look out, given how some things go backwards. But those words make as much sense as pretty much anything else anyone’s ever said in one of Nolan’s movies.
In fact, in Tenet, Nolan seems to have purposefully explained nothing at all. As if to say, hey, nothing makes any sense in these movies, why bother even pretending? The Most Fabulous Object in The World in this movie is described as an “algorithm” that comes in seven pieces, and if the bad guy finds all seven and sticks them together, then the world ends and everybody dies.
Which I’m pretty sure is the plot of The Avengers, give or take.
That might be a spoiler, by the way, given how long it takes for anyone to finally tell us this. I think we’re supposed to think it’s plutonium the bad guy wants? At first? Also, he has the power of making some things go backwards. Here, let me explain it to you:
Ha ha! Sorry. I’m kidding, of course. No one’s going to explain anything to you. Except actually they will, kind of, at length, in a seemingly endless series of very tense scenes with very terse and expository dialogue you can only half hear and have to squint to make grammatical sense of, let alone sense logical or scientific.
Okay, fine, I’ll give it a go. See, in the future, “they” can invert an object’s entropy, and send it on its way into the past, which, um, hold on, okay, which means that if you think about it going backwards and pretend to do stuff to it, that means you already did stuff to it, ergo THE WORLD IS GOING TO END UNLESS YOU STOP THEM! BUT LOOK OUT! SOME STUFF GOES BACKWARDS!
As for a story, Nolan’s gambit here is that the Protagonist—whose name is literally The Protagonist, har har—doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing any more than we do. He meets people who tell him, in tense scenes with terse and expository dialogue, what he has to do next, which he does, only to be told something else, and before you know it we’re in some sort of desert landscape and there’s these two color-coded armies, one of which is going backwards, and they have to capture the Most Fabulous Object in The World before it explodes, which it will, but only if Kenneth Brannagh kills himself on time, because he’s the most backwards-going of them all, which means when he kills himself, and he will, he has cancer and doesn’t give a damn about anyone anymore, he’s going to take out the whole world with him, which he can do because of his backwards-power. In fact, he has, like, the most backwards-power, because of how he’s pals with the future-people who invented this stuff, which people are not at all worried about time-travel’s grandfather paradox, and are thus okay with past-world being entirely eradicated, since why would that affect them at all, so here you go, Kenneth, have at it with our backwards-magic and blow it all up, you maniac! BLOW IT ALL UP!
If you see what I’m saying.
And if you do, let me know, because my head still hurts from squinting at this thing for 2.5 hours. Yes, it’s that long, because as I mentioned up top, it’s a super-hero movie in smarty-pants clothing.
But is it good, I hear you asking, where “you” is a voice echoing around my head, since it’s not like I’ve interacted with any actual humans for the past year, though, since you asked, I’m getting my second moderna shot next week, and frankly I’m pretty psyched about the whole business. Speaking of science. As I believe I was.
And no. In answer to your question. It is not good. I realize this is an entirely subjective stance to take. But, also, it is the truth.
Say, did you like how in that dreadful third Batman movie you couldn’t make out a single word Bane said? Good news for you! In keeping with Nolan’s ongoing efforts to obscure all dialogue with the most bonkers sound-mixing in the history of film, a vast amount of Tenet takes place with characters wearing head and face obscuring helmets, such that not only can’t we understand what they’re saying, we can’t tell who they are. This makes the thrill-packed, incomprehensibly staged and cut action finale weirdly surreal. Who are these people? You may find yourself asking. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Wait, is somebody around here going backwards again? Cut it out already, would ya! I’m trying to watch a movie!
So, yeah. Anyway. The final gotcha-wowie reveal at the film’s end, which lord knows I would never spoil for you, is just your basic time-travel whoopideedoo, even though Nolan has positioned this movie as being absolutely not about time travel! NO NEVER! See, what it is is, is that—are you with me here?—it’s that some things, well… some things go… backwards. LOOK OUT!