A Review of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet”

By Nora Hogan

Arts Co-Editor

On September 3, 2020, the long-awaited Christopher Nolan film, “Tenet,” was released to the American masses. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the film did not garner much attention due to closed movie theaters and reduced capacities. However, most viewers who did watch the movie had one consensus after watching: Huh? I had to pay so much attention to the movie’s plot to get an idea of what I was watching that I actually got eye strain.

From what I could gather, the movie centers around the journey of the “Protagonist” (John David Washington), who gets recruited by a secret organization called Tenet to stop World War III from happening. A scientist from Tenet shows the Protagonist bullets with introverted entropy, a property that allows them to move backward in time. She theorizes that these inverted objects were manufactured in the future and are evidence of a coming catastrophic world war. With the help of his friend Neil (Robert Pattinson), the Protagonist then traces the manufacturer of the bullets to an arms dealer in India named Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia). Singh reveals that the bullets were manufactured by Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). The Protagonist then seeks Sator’s wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), an art appraiser who had previously sold Sator a forged painting. Sator uses the forgery as blackmail to keep Kat under his control. The next two hours of the movie, from this point, follow these characters as they backstab, confront mind-bending alterations of physical reality, and try to save the world.

I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. Although it is really confusing and I still don’t understand many aspects of the plot; I did get a decent serotonin boost at times in the movie when I did figure out what I was watching. I’m also a big fan of the casting. Since watching “Blackkklansman,” I’ve been low-key obsessed with John David Washington and was very happy to see him in the starring role of yet another blockbuster Hollywood film. Christopher Nolan actually handpicked Washington for this role specifically after watching “Blackkklansman.” Nolan has previously said of the actor: “[He’s] just one of the greatest collaborators I’ve worked with: extraordinarily hard-working, very, very thoughtful, and very considerate of everybody around him in the most wonderful way." I also spotted Himesh Patel, who stars as the lead role in “Yesterday,” who plays a CIA-esque tech guy that helps the Protagonist and Neil with their mission. And lastly, Robert Pattinson’s appearance in this movie single-handedly made this movie a must-watch in my book. End of story.

My main issue with the movie, besides being confusing, is the generic damsel-in-distress trope that Nolan includes in the plot. Kat, Sator’s estranged wife, is forced to stay in her marriage primarily out of love and concern for her child. The Protagonist, after learning of this fact, vows to help Kat get out of her situation, no matter the cost . . . which is stupid. At several moments during the film, the Protagonist goes out of his way to help Kat. Meanwhile, these decisions put the safety of his teammates and the world in jeopardy. I don’t understand why the Protagonist does this, especially considering that there was never a point where he and Kat confess their love for one another. There’s only weird sexual tension at times. Is it really worth sacrificing the world for strange sexual tension only? Yuck. Also, the actress that plays Kat, Elizabeth Debicki TOTALLY could dropkick Kenneth Branagh, who plays her husband Sator, considering that she is 6’3” and he is 5’9”. Those willowy limbs would do some real damage if put to use. 

At the end of the day, this movie is very cool. You can tell that this film took a lot of work to produce, considering the uniqueness of the story and the accuracy of the special effects. In fact, Christopher Nolan wrote the script for five years after thinking about the movie’s central ideas for more than a decade. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. Additionally, Nolan recruited Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist, to help him accurately depict the alterations of physics and time are shown in the movie. Although the film may be confusing, you have to give Nolan credit for being accurate. Theoretical physics is confusing for a reason!

However, as cases rise in the United States, I will only recommend that you wait for this movie to be available online to watch it. However, it remains a must-watch. In the time of COVID, almost no new films are being released, so you might as well give this movie a watch considering it’s most likely going to win the Academy Award for Best Picture come next February. Go Figure.

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