Tenet

Tenet ★★★

Much like the so-called "temporal pincer movement" at the center of the siege of Stalsk-12 which highlights Tenet's final act, I feel two opposing ways about the film itself. Perhaps, on closer examination, the two will meet somewhere near the middle. Maybe there is a middle ground to be had in this muddled and messy behemoth of a work. I have my doubts. But let us soldier on...

It seems to me like there are two chief "kinds of ways" that people feel about the mastermind behind these recent blockbusters. (Sure, there are plenty of little factions and splinter groups, but we're talking major thrusts here). One group has loved the guy for a long time, largely because they loved the early, more character-driven hits and found later blockbusters like Inception and Interstellar to be balancing on the head of a pin - high concept, big tent, yet fulfilling and having some level of emotional cache all at once.

These folks, and I hope I'm not speaking too far out of turn when I say I believe two of my closest cinephile buds belong to this ilk, believed that Nolan was entirely self-serious in this endeavor. After all, when isn't the guy intensely staring down weighty themes and trying to say something of significance (use your dramatic reading voice for the italics)? His movies mess with time and flip trucks end to end and build massive set pieces, but they also house philosophical inquiry on the nature of self, relationships, and even things beyond the stars.

It's my suspicion that Group A Nolanites believed the man was deathly serious and going for bigger and deeper and better here. Instead, whether it was due to inexplicable sound design, convoluted storytelling, backending crucial exposition, or lacking any sort of emotional pulse, what they found was a giant, whopping, soulless dud.

BUT...there is another reading, friends. This more outsider crew says that Nolan hasn't really been making good pictures for a long, long while. He's the director that makes you go - "WOW! How DID he shoot that?!" But also just seems emotionally vapid, logically bewildering, labyrinthine in plotting, and almost robotic.

If you're the second guy or gal, a rather crazy thing could happen in the watching of this film. What if, the Group B-er says to himself, Nolan has FINALLY reached some level of self-awareness? What if he's decided to have a little more (dare we say it!) fun this time around? He's determined he'll just throw the kitchen sick of ideas at his audience. He'll inject some humor and irony into the film's DNA. Nolan will, say, ironically name the main character "Protagonist" and then he'll just go make his massive Bond villain movie appended with his multi-year collection of egg-headed scientific obsessions.

Now I'm not sure if this is how it went. But, I think there's a chance, a modicum of a possibility, that some people could have actually had a great time with this one. After all, the Bond "stuff" is just SOO overt - dialogues about great suits, a debonair lead, a completely over-the-top hammy performance from a Russian oligarch (kudos to you, Kenneth Branagh). There's a damsel in distress. She has a son. She loves her son. I'm woman, love boy, me have complex emotions, you feel too? Sorry. Just trying to get on Nolan's level of emotional scene-writing here.

And there's also just Nolan being Nolan. Time inversion based on energy entropy or something like that. Bullets in reverse. A freeport heist that is as eye-popping as it is nonsensical. The hallway fight going in two different time directions at the same time. Repelling UP skyscrapers. The siege of Stalsk-12, and the car sequence which called Matrix Reloaded to my mind so strongly (though said cinephile above pointed out to me that it is MUCH less special-effects driven). Finally, of course the random insertion of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his swat team at the critical moment in the film.

Nobody can do the kinds of things the man does (save maybe Spielberg and Cameron). Here, I have to admit (speaking of time divergence), the film kinda runs in two different directions at once, being just fun and also incoherent. Probably the quote you'll read the most associated with Tenet comes out of a scientist's mouth (and a former Harry Potter series actress to boot): "Don't try to understand it. Just feel it." Indeed, Nolan said almost as much in a recent interview. We could draw a fault line in the ground and state that where one falls on either side of that precipice directly determines satisfaction in the experience of this film.

BUT, and this is where I'll close, the trouble is this: IF Nolan didn't want us to really try to unscramble his puzzle, decode his Sator Square, and instead just ride along for the amusement park rush, THEN WHY DOES HE SPEND SO MUCH TIME EXPLAINING HIS WORLD??!! Or, again, what is there to feel when you write emotional depth like a kindergartener coloring outside the lines with his crayons? The film, like so many others, is riotously exposition-heavy. There are crumbs all over the place, even if some things only get mentioned once and in passing. So don't place a Rubik's cube in front of us and just say look at the pretty colors. All of us on here are respectable cinephiles, after all (as I raise my pinkie off my coffee mug).

In the end, I have to say, with subtitles at home, I had a pretty good time. And I "liked" the film because of this fact...John David Washington is a STAR! Pattinson crushes the Nolan look-alike, Debicki is effortlessly elegant, and Branagh goes for broke. The score is a near career highlight too. Like I've been saying (10 paragraphs in), I haven't thought about it at all. I've just been riding this wave of raw feeling-power.

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