Lewis White | Film Editor
Christopher Nolan returns with his new espionage thriller starring John David Washington: Tenet. The director, known for the dark knight trilogy and Inception (2010), has created a film so ambitious that it is admirable, so confusing that it is infuriating. Tenet opens with a high octane introduction to John David Washington as our protagonist…called Protagonist. Protagonist is taken across the globe and told that the world has entered a cold war but this time it is not nuclear, it is temporal. A race against the clock starts as he must stop the world being destroyed, and it all hangs on the balance of an abusive relationship.
Tenet has been released during an unprecedented time, in the middle of the COVID-19 global pandemic, resulting in a time of social and political unrest. Cinemas around the globe have been closed and the majority of 2020 films delayed or moved to streaming services, Tenet did not escape this industry move to save lives – it was originally scheduled to release on July 17th 2020 but after two delays Christopher Nolan put his foot down and has now released it across the UK. Nolan has displayed a disregard for people’s safety – the release of Tenet ushered many cinemas to open – this is a display of capitalistic apathy for everyone’s lives. Nolan wants you to see this movie…but should you?
Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of this film is its palindromic title and structure, reading the same forwards as backwards; a few writers and poets have written in palindromic ways but in film it is perhaps harder to achieve such an effect. Nolan introduces a visual language that is disorienting, choreographing action sequences that play backwards and forwards – confusing and intriguing the audience all the same. The film offers very little explanation or comprehension for the physics of this particular force, in the first act Clémence Poésy’s Laura explains it to Protagonist – implying that you have to have dropped something first before you can pick it up. It’s nonsense – but still vaguely interesting nonsense. This intrigue offers unlimited capability for ground-breaking sequences that are jaw-droppingly original but perhaps one of the largest flaws of the film is that it is either one of two things: a phenomenal and confusing action sequence, or a non-sensical conversation.
In that same scene of exposition Clémence Poésy explains: “Don’t try to understand it, just feel it.” it seems as if this is directed to the audience as opposed to the lead – and she makes a fair point. The is no hope trying to understand this film, Nolan definitely does not want you to understand it – going out of his way to try and confuse the audience and not give any explanation to what is happening. Which leads me to the other issue I have with this film is that, aside from Elizabeth Debicki’s Kat, all female roles are simply tools of exposition. A common trend in Nolan’s filmography, the female protagonist acts as a token role, someone there to assist the male protagonist as opposed to having agency in-of-themselves. It seems a dull and overused trope at this point to write women simply to assist men especially when most of the drama hinders entirely on Kat’s abusive relationship with Kenneth Branagh’s Andrei. Elizabeth Debicki is perhaps the best part of this film, stealing every scene she is in and remaining the only character of which the audience may feel something towards.
So, this film offers some excellent innovation in action filmmaking – establishing some never before-seen choreography, irrevocably tied to Ludwig Göransson’s phenomenal score and grounded in some excellent performances especially from Elizabeth Debicki. But the film is apathetic towards the audience, practically pushing any hope of understanding and enjoying the film away therefore isolating the audience in a lack of comprehension. Coupled with Nolan’s questionable decision to release this film in the current climate, this film is aggressively pretentious, overimportant and not worth risking your life for.