Tenet

January 25th 2021

Today I watched Christopher Nolan’s Tenet as homework for the movie club I do with some friends as a way of keeping in touch during lockdown.

Full disclosure, this was my second attempt at trying to watch it and, annoyingly, that meant I also had to pay for it twice. You can buy it to rent on Amazon, and so I did that on Friday night and watched maybe the first ten minutes of it before realising that it was too thinky for a Friday night after a tough week of work. It was something I was going to have to give more attention that I was capable of, so I switched it off and watched the original The Italian Job instead.

I thought I had 30 days to watch Tenet on my Amazon account, but apparently because I started watching it, it expires in 48 hours so when I went back to watch it again today, I had to buy it again. At this point, I kind of wish I’d just bought the damn thing officially, rather than just renting it each time, because it’s definitely a film I’ll want to watch again and again. And one that I’ll need to.

During the film, I was taking notes for the purpose of movie club, and here are some confused jottings, which are most definitely full of spoilers:

Questions

  1. I like the locations
  2. I don’t understand the threat. Bullets are already pretty dangerous when moving forward, why does moving them backwards make any difference
  3. Is this just a really high concept love story?
  4. I like that all the set pieces look real. Are they real?
  5. I can’t hear what they’re saying. I’m turning on subtitles.
  6. Why are they sailing
  7. The time travel is like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  8. I like that the locations change quickly and suddenly you’re in a different country or it’s a few days later.
  9. Sator/Rotas is dumb. We get it. It’s a palindrome. Very clever.
  10. Is Neil Max?
  11. (I didn’t make notes on the climax, because you kind of have to be paying attention.)

When I watch a film like this I then immediately have to watch a load of YouTube video essays on it to find things that I missed, and with my new knowledge from the future, I have some replies to my past self. For visual purposes, imagine I’m walking around Oslo answering my past self’s questions while using really expository dialogue so that the audience understands too.

Answers

  1. Same.
  2. I guess bullets going backwards are just an easy teaser explanation to the wider concept. You have to be drip-fed the idea rather than be told the whole thing at once.
  3. Meh, not really in the end. It was just high-concept. More on this below.
  4. Yes.
  5. I was glad to discover that it wasn’t just me who struggled with the sound. The score is intense, and full of bass, and it was fucking with the TV to the point where I had to turn the volume down so it didn’t reverberate around my room, but doing that meant I couldn’t understand the dialogue. The score is good, but the mixing is bad and lots of other people struggled with hearing both. Nolan has a habit of doing that. See also: Bane.
  6. Why were they sailing?
  7. It is exactly like that. What’s happened, happened.
  8. Same.
  9. So apparently this is part of some wider galaxy brain Nolan shit and in reference to the Sator Square, which there’s a whole historical background on. There was also Arepo and Opera.
  10. I was also glad to see other people make this connection. Honestly, the more I think about it the less I believe it. It did kind of seem purposefully ambiguous, because they don’t develop Max at all, and then there’s the whole floppy-haired and British vibe they’ve both got going on. If it is true, then Neil nursing his mother back to health is a pretty nice moment.

I really liked it. It’s tricky to process, but it made enough sense on the first watch for it to be enjoyable, but also, it doesn’t have to make sense. It’s a self-contained story in its own world, and how we interpret that world is up to us. Like, you can look at a painting and see far more than the artist intended. That’s the point of art.

The time travel makes it complicated, and complex to comprehend, but there are two strong emotional moments that ground the film somewhat:

When Kat dives off the boat she finds the freedom that she was envying earlier in the film/timeline. The freedom she envied was always hers.

And then after the explosion, we know that Neil is already dead, but we have to watch him make the choice to go back in and die. He knows his part that he has to play.

This has been longer than I intended, so I’m going to end with a comment I copied from a YouTube review I watched:

Until tomorrow, “It feels like a sequel to a film we haven’t watched yet”

Jacn

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