Artnewspress : This article loosely describes the plot for Tenet and may include mild spoilers.
Christopher Nolan has never been what you’d call a sentimental filmmaker, but his highly anticipated eleventh movie seems to have had every trace of humanity surgically removed in post. Tenet will be many people’s first movie theater experience in months, and it’s a perfect reintroduction—a dizzyingly ambitious, exhilarating popcorn thriller that demands to be seen on the big screen, peppered with visuals that feel genuinely groundbreaking. It’s also a strangely apt choice for the social distancing era because nobody on screen is relating to each other in a normal way, or sharing anything that feels like intimacy.
Back in March, Nolan wrote a heartfelt and touching ode to movie theaters in The Washington Post, which doubled as an explanation for why he was holding out to release Tenet in theaters. Nolan’s passion for the moviegoing experience as a way people can come together and connect resonated deeply with me, and it echoed what I was seeking as I made my way to the theater this week.
My cinema experience, in a part of the UK where coronavirus cases are currently low, was surreal. At a weekday matinee, I counted eleven people in a 172 seat screen, many of us solo, all of us appropriately distanced. Everyone wore masks, and kept them on throughout the movie except to occasionally sip a beverage. Nobody was eating popcorn. The atmosphere was somber, but not tense. We felt uneasy, but not unsafe. And soon enough we were whisked out of reality by the nerve-wracking opening moments of Tenet—which, as it happens, depict an opera house audience being terrorized by armed gunmen (so much for relaxing back into the theater experience!). That opening sequence set the tone for a film that delivers on spectacle and thrills, but lacks the emotional catharsis I was longing for.
Nolan’s films have always been driven more by concepts than characters, but in the past those concepts had psychological questions behind them: In Memento, Guy Pearce’s protagonist can’t trust his own memory, so what does that do to his psyche? Inception’s characters are lucid dreamers by profession, so how do they keep a grip on reality? In Interstellar, Matthew McConaughey bends the fabric of space and time to save the world, but can he ever make amends to the daughter he abandoned? In Tenet, there is no discernible human story being told. Its characters are mostly gorgeous ciphers, zipping from one high-octane set piece to the next unencumbered by personality, and if you accept that from the jump, you’ll have fun.
Tenet’s central idea is that it’s possible for objects to move backwards through time, as well as forwards. This process, known as inversion, isn’t like traditional time travel – it’s a radiation-fueled process that changes the object on a cellular level, reversing its entropy, and it’s enormously dangerous in the wrong hands. Though loosely grounded in science, inversion is a knowingly convoluted and mind-boggling concept that only becomes more so as the film goes on. “Don’t try to understand it,” a scientist urges John David Washington’s CIA agent, who is simply named The Protagonist. “Just feel it.” He obeys, and so should you.