This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Eliza’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
tenet never reckons with the actual meaning of the actions of its Protagonists, which is that they are combatting ecoterrorists from the future who want revenge on the past, and it only drops this info at the very end. it is highly reactionary in its absolute belief in determinism; asking how dare the people who come after us be angry that we destroyed the world? there is no future, and no past - no possibility for change - everything that has happened and will happened has already been decided. instead of working to repair, reform, or reinvent, the Protagonists wage war against future radicals, an absurd and pointless war whose result is already decided. it is as if the film is openly saying not only is ecological reform something to be resisted, its failure and defeat are already decided. we will destroy the world and there is nothing to be done about it. our descendants can get fucked! how vile and bleak a sentiment.
have been thinking of this in conversation with death stranding, another recent work that traffics in absurd symbols and which is ultimately about climate change. whereas death stranding illustrates the importance of solidarity and human connection (the tether/rope/strand; a game literally about crossing the difficult in-between to unite people and forge connections), tenet sows generational division. during the climactic conversation, Protagonist tells sator that the future radicals don’t believe in anything, while sator asks if God will forgive him for what he is doing and for bringing a child into a world he knew was ending (recalling the central questions of first reformed, “will God forgive us for what we have done to the earth?”, another film that navigates the binaries of hope/despair and progress/conservation). what Protagonist (and the film, in its implicit support of his actions) fail to accept is the complicity of our generation and the ones directly proceeding us in the destruction of the environment. is it wrong to be angry at the generations who came before you for making life unliveable? if there is, eventually, a moment where there is no hope for a future for humankind, is there anything to do but rage? i don’t think so.
instead of asking its audience to consider working to make things better for the people after us, tenet wants us to preemptively scorn them for how they will inevitably view us. the film’s conceit, at its very foundation, posits that our future is certain doom. (there’s a brief acknowledgment that maybe something could go wrong, but nothing in the film would indicate that this is actually a possibility. everything goes exactly as it did on their first pass-through of events. “what’s happened happened.”) it is about the importance of our generation’s existence over any one else (“each generation looks out for its own survival”), in the same way that a libertarian believes that they should selfishly value their wellbeing over anyone else’s. none of this is to say that the villains are actually the heroes, but simply that our Protagonists aren’t really the heroes either.
i would also be remiss not to mention that the portrayal of the future people as wanting to “destroy the past” has an uncomfortable resonance with the way reactionaries speak about any progressive moment of wanting to destroy the past/culture (or at least the parts of the past that they long to cling to; Western Civilization and the Canon). this is, intentionally or not, the message of the film: that is it more important to preserve the past at all costs than fight to make things materially better for the future.
this is so fucking depressing to watch right after cloud atlas, and honestly, any positive feelings i had for it have totally subsided.
the only scene i still have affection for is the big goodbye. it is essentially the same moment of dramatic irony as the end of la jetée without the cynicism; the only time that the central characters meaningfully emotionally interact with the film’s deterministic time mechanics: temporal trickery that creates a bittersweet goodbye that is also a hello, full of promise. kat’s timefuck moment on the boat falls totally flat in comparison. her whole arc does honestly; a woman defined wholly by her traumatic marriage, the injuries it inflicts, and her motherhood, while the men get to run off, travel the world, and become heterosexual life partners.
(*mark fisher brain activate*
the unspoken implication to all of this, RE: the inevitable destruction of the earth, is capitalist realism; that capitalism, which is undeniably causing great damage to the environment, is the only viable economic model and that it will persist even beyond the point we might consider apocalyptic. that, well, yes, we are making the world unlivable for our children but what else is there to do? a film totally resigned to a dark future.
it’s no wonder nolan was so adamant that his film be shown in theaters, even during a pandemic. he doesn’t give a shit about you or your health or your kids or anybody for that matter. might as well rake in the money before the water gets too high.)
in writing this, i also sensed some kind of parallel with the final fantasy 7 remake and the rebuild of evangelion. these are projects which, despite initially seeming to follow in the footsteps of a previous work (a kind of artistically imposed determinism; reenactment; that the ending is already decided), break free from the confines of their predecessors and forge a new reality. tenet’s form of looking back (the time travel conceit, inversion) is not a process that is generative (i.e. there can be no new manipulation of elements to create a new outcome), it is totally neutral and self-defeating. it is not even the creation of new layers of complexity of action; every action taken was already there on the first pass through. tenet is a film which has the illusion of constantly remaking itself before it has even happened, but its “remakes” are not reinterpretations, they’re exact copies. take, for instance, the scene where Protagonist fights himself. it plays out exactly the same twice, once forwards and once backwards. its beginning and conclusion are fixed. the final battle plays out in a similar way on a grander scale. we know what will happen (even beyond the standard level of suspension of disbelief which is required to become invested in a narrative film where the heroes will inevitably win) precisely because it has already happened. tenet is a film without real tension in the same way that a precise shot-for-shot remake is without tension (at least for those who have seen its source material); it’s ending is a foregone conclusion. a closed loop
i’m gonna watch the matrix moves to heal from thinking about this awfulness!! if this was total nonsense, i’m sorry, my brain is kind of fried!