Tenet

Tenet

Christopher Nolan isn’t interested in explanation. He’s not a man who crafts intricate mysteries to be solved. When discussing The Grandfather Paradox the Protagonist asks Neil “What’s the answer?” He replies, “Theres no answer. It’s a paradox.” Nolan doesn’t have answers to offer us, no answers left in the corner of frames and obscure historical reference. He’s deliberately seeking questions without answers, and then presenting them to the audience in the form of action film narrative logic. It’s a challenge because he desires both the blockbuster energy of cinema and the unsolvable riddles of life. It’s a daunting task, and one that he usually fails at. The concepts get lost in the greater plot - he errs on the side of the blockbuster.

In Tenet however, I see his greatest success. The concept, entropy and reverse chronology, becomes the content. He’s found a way to construct a plot so labyrinthine and fundamentally unknowable, that it takes over the rest of the film. Nolan tries to make the movie about other things; an abusive relationship, climate change, nuclear dangers, and so on. None of these sub-plots are able to escape the constricting temporal pincer moment of Nolan’s dedication to high concept bullshit. Because reverse motion is such a weirdly pleasing visual it massively shifts the energy of the scenes when it is used. It’’s unreal in an uncanny way, asking you first to try and play the motion backwards and not to think about what is going on narratively. The struggles of our protagonists fade away as you focus on playing everything backwards and forwards, imagining two separate perspectives at the same time. Instead of constantly pulling away from the concept to hammer home the “themes” - like with every cutaway to Cobb’s perfect children or saving Coop for an impossible reunion - Nolan lets entropy bring him away from the family stuff.

Mechanically, the story is already over by the time Nolan begins telling it. The decisions have already been made, the conflicts already won and lost. The stakes are incredibly high and yet instantly made unimportant, there’s nothing for the audience to do except watch the mechanics in action. It’s a sterile minimalism, making action film logic become visible through temporal distortion. The film moves away from its own concerns and becomes a meta-argument surrounding the generic impulses of action cinema - where the battle is already won because the heroes have to survive. Can it still be entertaining to watch play soldiers enacting play wars against made-up enemies for incomprehensible reasons? Apparently I believe so - and find it even more engaging to watch the second time around.

Instead of manufacturing obscene narrative reasons for characters to do things Nolan just say upfront that they are following these specific plans because it has already happened. The temporal logic functions just the same as the script, making sure the action stays on course. It’s the ultimate play against contrarian nitpickers, shouting “Don’t you see? It’s all made up!” The blockbuster assembling itself in front of you. It should break the magic, seeing how the sausage get’s made, but the wonder of cinema is that knowing how it works gives the magic to you as well. Motion pictures began with the train that scared its audiences, but it became cinema when people learned how it worked and still believed.

"“What’s happened happened.” Which is an expression of faith in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an
excuse to do nothing."

"Fate?"

"Call it what you want."

"What do you call it?"

"Reality."

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Honestly this is embarrassing lmao, I really fucking liked this movie and the goodbye between Pattinson and Washington made me so emotional.

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