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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

TENET :"Time inversions or 'What's happened, happened'"

Tenet was heralded as the movie that would kickstart people returning to cinemas to watch movies following the closure of cinemas during our current season of pestilence and isolation.

At a cost of $US200million to produce, Warner Brothers studios was counting on a massive box office return. The worldwide takings at the box office, US$360 million, has exceeded the production costs but whether it is considered a box office smash is debatable.

Box office success is a different matter to the success of the movie as a viewing experience.

Tenet starts at a frantic pace with hints about a storyline that will turn viewers over, under, sideways and down. I’m not even going to try to explain the story in detail. To explain it will confound and leave you feeling discombobulated.

Briefly, the protagonist, who funnily enough, refers to himself as The Protagonist, is one tough hombre. The Protagonist (John David Washington) must negotiate and navigate his way through time inversions in order to prevent the antagonist Sator (Kenneth Branagh) from destroying humanity and everything that has ever existed or that will ever exist in the future. That’s huge. But there is so much more to the story.

Tenet Official trailer

Tenet is a time warping thriller involving inverse radiation, entropy, time inversions, secret cities, an inversion turnstile, coded messages, guns that catch rather than shoot bullets, and the Tenet Algorithm. Even while watching the film, don’t try to understand every moment and every scene. It is more effective to let the events flow over you and to get the gist of the story and the time bending nature of the characters' travels.

If you want scientific explanations and psychological reasonings for things happening in the film, it won’t work, unless you’re one of the limited number of people who have read physicist Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and claim to understand his expositions on time.

Time inversion involves cause and effect but not in that order. Cars, people and events travel forwards and backwards simultaneously in the same action sequence. That doesn’t happen in every scene; that would be plain ridiculous and overwhelming. It happens more as the film builds to its denouement.

Characters often repeat the line, “What’s happened, happened,” but as we watch the movie, we and The Protagonist are trying to work out not only what did happen but how and, importantly, when it happened, or when it is going to happen.

The Protagonist & Kat

Tenet is a mystery with a brutal and sociopathic arms dealer, Sator, who controls the existence of the past, the present and the future; a tragically embattled woman, Kat, and her child, Max, and a futuristic device that looks like a axle from a car, referred to as an algorithm, that controls time and space and will cause the obliteration of everything that has happened, that is happening now and that might happen. Mind boggling, indeed.

It’s similar to a James Bond film crossed with Mission Impossible, wrapped in an enigma and then taken to the spatial and temporal dimensions of human existence. Yes, that’s a lot to deal with even when the movie is two and a half hours. Plus you need to allow time to untangle the pretzel your brain will become.

If you really want a detailed explanation, you can find detailed summaries of Tenet online, but what’s the point if you’re going to watch the movie. Don’t bother. Watch the movie instead because it will take you almost as long to read, and re-read, articles about the plot. I’ve already read them so you don’t have to. You're welcome.

There is a major issue with the audience’s ability to understand the muddy dialogue in Tenet. The complexity of the timeline means that characters’ explanations are critical to understanding what is happening. The words are often unclear. That makes it hard to decipher and, therefore, you miss critical hints as to who is doing what and where they're doing it and when they’re doing it.

At times, I stopped the playback and replayed key portions of dialogue and still couldn’t separate the words. If you're watching the film in a cinema, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to stop and replay scenes. Under any screening options, that’s not desirable and would interrupt the flow of the action.

As to the title, Tenet, it makes more sense when you say it as Ten Ten. That makes Tenet the word “ten” mashed together forward and backwards—a palindrome. This mirrors the backwards/forwards timeline in the movie and connects to the final battle scene in the movie. It will make sense during the film's final moments.

No need to be confused. Tenet is best when it's viewed, rather than being the subject of words. That may sound obvious because it is a film and that’s in its nature. Whether you understand it all or capture every nuance of the ideas in Tenet, is inconsequential. It is huge and might require several viewings similar to other cerebral films of the genre, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sometimes, in film terms, you should allow yourself to be entangled, tied in knots and turned back to front.

Christopher Nolan is renowned for his mind bending and time twisting movies, from Memento and Interstellar to Inception and Dunkirk. Tenet adds to his body of

time-altering work.

Director Christopher Nolan directs Tenet

How to Watch Tenet

Tenet is a movie that will benefit as a viewing experience by watching it, if possible, in 70mm in a cinema or, considering it was filmed using iMax cameras, in an iMax theatre. You get a sense of the spatial immersion of the wide screen when watching on a TV screen at home. It would be amazing on a massive screen in 70mm or at an iMax theatre.


Tenet (2020) is available to buy, rent and stream. Keep an eye out for 70mm and iMax screenings, if available, in your location.

Production stills, official trailer and official poster © Warner Brothers Pictures



Memento (2001)

Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator, suffers from anterograde amnesia and uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife, which is the last thing he remembers. Although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, where he's going, or why.


Looper (2012)

In a future society, time-travel exists, but it's only available to those with the means to pay for it on the black market. When the mob wants to eliminate someone, it sends the target into the past, where a hit man known as a looper lies in wait to finish the job. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one such hired gun, and he does his job well -- until the day his bosses decide to "close the loop" and send Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) back in time to be killed.


Groundhog Day (1993)

For a lighter spin on time repeating itself, watch Bill Murray tackle time with hilarious results in Groundhog Day. Phil, a self-centred weatherman, goes to the town of Punxsutawney for an assignment. He is shocked when he wakes up the next morning and realises that he is reliving the same day over and over.


Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

After being caught in a time loop, Major William Cage has to save Earth and the human race from an alien species. He can only learn how to defeat the aliens by dying in battle every day before being reinserted into the time loop. That’s what you call a bad day, every day. Killed within moments, Cage finds himself reliving the battle, and his death, over and over again. However, his fighting skills improve with each encore, bringing him and a comrade (Emily Blunt) ever closer to defeating the aliens. Edge of Tomorrow is a sci-fi equivalent of Groundhog Day.


Inception (2010)

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief with the rare ability to enter people's dreams and steal their secrets from their subconscious. His skill has made him a hot commodity in the world of corporate espionage but has also cost him everything he loves. Cobb gets a chance at redemption when he is offered a seemingly impossible task: Plant an idea in someone's mind. If he succeeds, it will be the perfect crime, but a dangerous enemy anticipates Cobb's every move.


Interstellar (2014)

Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant NASA physicist, is working on plans to save mankind from an uninhabitable Earth by transporting Earth's population to a new home via a wormhole. A farmer and ex-NASA pilot, Joseph Cooper, is tasked to pilot a spacecraft, along with a team of researchers, to find a new planet for humans by travelling through the wormhole and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind's new home.


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