Christopher Nolan's newest instalment, Tenet, is one of the most remarkable Nolan movies ever to grace the screen. All the confusion, messy timelines, and boggling twists from his earlier works, but with more of a spy movie feel. The movie’s main character doesn't even have a name. Portrayed by John David-Washington, the protagonist is a special operative given the task of stopping a world-ending event.
Tenet is one part spy movie, one part trippy Nolan classic. Watching this movie was witnessing an epic of cinema. The soundtrack, action sequences, and plot explanation by Pattinson’s character Neil culminated into, perhaps, Nolan’s best work. The Protagonist works with Neil, who teaches him the inner workings of inverted materials, which is the thing that makes Tenet look so wonky in all the trailers. Using this new technology, they work together to stop a doomsday event set in motion by a Russian mobster, whose wife Kat works with Neil and The Protagonist to stop her husband, Sator. There are also politics involved because the first mission that Neil and The Protagonist run is to find more about this weapons conglomerate that Sator is a part of. Throughout the movie, the Protagonist learns more and more about this new form of weapons called inversion, and about two-thirds of the way through the film finds out that you can invert people. He ends up fighting a future, or at least a different form of Neil, which leads Neil to spill the beans on the implications of inversion tech.
The name of the movie, Tenet, is a palindrome, the same backwards and forwards. This is a nod to the plot dynamic, but is this a way to unravel the windy story?
This is where the plot gets exceptionally muddled. Because in the end, after the epic action sequence that runs backwards and forwards, Neil reveals that he must invert himself to go back in time and make sure things go right and the battle is won all over again. So does Neil live the same way backwards and forwards, or are there more versions of Neil than we think? Who’s to say. The name of the movie, Tenet, is a palindrome, the same backwards and forwards. This is a nod to the plot dynamic, but is this a way to unravel the windy story? Perhaps. One key thing to remember is that we see Neil’s keychain on his backpack in the very first scene in the movie. But we don’t actually ‘meet’ Neil until later in the film.
However, we know that Neil has to invert himself to go back for the final battle, but does he continue living ‘backwards’ to go for saving The Protagonist in the initial theatre scene, or is Neil just there without us knowing? Neil says that though it's the end of their relationship for The Protagonist, it was only the beginning for Neil. Essentially, they are passing each other on the timeline, but who is moving in what direction? We’ve seen this pair inverted earlier in the movie, but who’s to say what the situation is at the end. It is implied that Neil must go inverted, but the possibilities for how the inversion works are endless.
This part makes your head spin because this leads to the conclusion that there are multiple iterations of the main characters running around and back and forth through the timelines. It is completely disorienting, and as with most of Nolan’s works, requires a second viewing to appreciate fully. It is not quite as formulaic as Inception and messes with time more than Interstellar. In a way, it feels most similar to The Prestige - at least in terms of different iterations or copies of the same character.
All in all, Tenet is an epic Nolan film. Until now, he was best known for Interstellar or Inception, Tenet has changed the game. It is more than just a new take on an old trope. It completely revitalises the spy movie genre while sticking to the storyline where the main characters have to stop a doomsday event. Tenet is something else entirely. Whatever it is, it is an excellent movie.