Tenet (TENƎꓕ) is the new venture of Christopher Nolan, a director who over the years has accustomed us to endless puzzles, action and genius. The main theme is that of time, exploited on various occasions by the director who has shown us an always different but still original vision of its flow. Interstellar and Inception challenged us and questioned our perception of time, but even Dunkirk, even if in a more subtle way, presented a triple time flow between land, air and sea. Chronos seems to have always fascinated Nolan who, in this case, presents us with a rewind of actions in the struggle between cause and effect.
Tenet, spy story and science fiction
From the first scene (in medias res) of the film, a riot of action and fast-paced pursuit, it is clear that we are in front of a spy film. The protagonist, who is by no means infallible, finds himself in trouble but is saved by an armed and masked man with a red thread hanging from his backpack. The red thread motif is the key to interpreting many scenes of the movie that are left to the viewer’s intuition.
John David Washington, the protagonist, with the help of his second Neil (Robert Pattinson) will have to prevent the outbreak of the third world war. Contrary to what one might think, however, this war is not nuclear but temporal. Thus, the outbreak of this future conflict will not lead to a nuclear holocaust, but to something worse, the complete obliteration of all life. But in the present, how do they know what will happen in the future?
In the first part of the film, some clues are introduced. There are bullets coming from the future that had their entropy reversed and move backward through time. In short, the gun instead of firing the bullet withdraws it, working in reverse. The question is: can it also be done with people? Clearly the answer is yes, otherwise the two and a half hours of screening would not be justified. The protagonists’ search for truth is a climatic Cluedo that makes viewers eager to discover all the cards on the table.
Tenet: a word and a gesture
Nolan thought long before starting filming, but his touch only begins to be evident after the first hour of the movie. Spectators were enthusiastic about the time inversion games and couldn’t wait to see their use on a large scale. They suffered a bit from the wait.
Things start to be clearer and we are told that a Russian oligarch is able to communicate with individuals living the future. They provide him with these ‘inverted’ objects through a machine. Thanks to the inverter it is possible to literally go back in time, to a precise moment, to change the course of events. The visual rendering of these scenes is successful and was achieved by pushing the IMAX cameras to the limit using them in reverse mode.
Andrei Sator’s (played by Kennet Branagh) mission is to reverse as many objects as possible and destroy the world. The purpose is understandable: from the future he received news of the fact that the protagonists of the present have exhausted all resources. The solution studied by the people living in the future is to exterminate those of the past, so as to prevent this exhaustion and assure them a normal life.
Characters and Complexity
Past, present and future intertwine giving us moments of great intensity, with a touch of sharpness. The use of the masks by the protagonists when they are in temporal situations different from their initial condition, helps us to understand where they are and, above all, in what time frame. Surely this is a useful element for understanding the plot which, however, is rather linear. The limited number of twists makes Tenet easy to understand, at times even predictable but still surprising.
Concepts complexity, however, doesn’t reflect much on the characters who seem lacking in depth and background. The four main characters respect the classic characterization: antagonist, helper, hero and damsel to be saved and never go beyond it. Even the female character, Kat Sator, wife of the antagonist and victim of his abuses, despite being an important character for the plot, doesn’t stand out.
The characters communicate independently, as if they were the children of the story and did not have someone behind guiding them. This allows us to live the adventure with them and makes us identify with the protagonist. Washington is a convincing character and we trust him every second of the movie.