Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” leaves audience confused yet intrigued


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Riley Hawkinson

Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic production Tenet”, a rare tentpole to hit selected American box offices during the midst of a pandemic on September 3rd, has a lot of thrill and bafflement to unpack. Complicated narrative and plot, coupled by overwhelming sci-fi action sequences, it is not far-fetched to say the movie is the most mind-boggling blockbuster Hollywood has ever made. 

“Tenet” opens with an undercover operation at the Kiev opera house carried out by an unnamed CIA agent—The Protagonist (yes this is the main character’s name). A bullet is seen to be “reverse fired” through somebody, leaving the audience with numerous unanswered questions. Audiences come to learn that The Protagonist, played by John David Washington, is being hired to accomplish a mission for a secret organization, Tenet. Scheming and barely escaping death, The Protagonist teams up with Neil (Robert Pattinson) to track down the source of an “inverted weapons” to a multi-billionaire arms dealer, Andrei Sator. With the added help of Kat, Sator’s wife, The Protagonist’s persistent attempt to prevent the end of the world makes for a thrilling movie.

At points in the movie, the audience goes through the past to impact the future, which is already affected by the past. Confusing. Through hectic cinematography, blink-and-you-miss-it shots, and verbal exposition muffled by intense explosions (a Nolan classic), “Tenet” is entertaining while equally mind mystifying. I think a consensus among viewers is that “Tenet” is hard to follow. The futuristic weapons wielded by a time-bending billionaire certainly complicates things. It is clear that Nolan overestimates his viewers’ abilities to constantly decipher the mathematical time bending loops while attempting to catch up with an already convoluted plot.

Nolan continues to state that he doesn’t believe the only way to achieve clarity is through dialogue, but at some points in the movie I found myself searching for a clue as to what the characters were saying. Although the dialogue at times is hard to understand, it does convey the feelings of confusion and panic which our characters are often in the midst of. Another mind game that this movie plays with the audience is the subtle hints dropped throughout the movie, which are later revisited when the characters go back in the past. For example, if you pay close attention to a specific scene, you may catch Nolan sprinkling crucial plot information with the help of something as mundane as a character’s height. 

Overall, “Tenet” presents an action packed thriller with Bond-esque villains and Hitchcock-style characters. In order to properly get a grasp on this movie, I recommend enjoying it the first time, forgetting all the lingering questions, and figuring out the details a second time around.