TENET: A Visionary Blockbuster


Angel Rocha

As movie-lovers cautiously return to cinemas, I don’t think there’s a better opener for them than Nolan’s latest blockbuster.

Tenet is a puzzle. Director Christopher Nolan has carefully picked out which pieces to give us and which pieces we have to fill in. There’s even a few pieces we might not find at all. Regardless, when we finally end up seeing his final vision, it’s extremely impressive. Whether an advantage or a drawback, Nolan has crafted his most complex film to date. That’s saying something, especially considering the mind-bending films he has under his belt, which include InceptionInterstellar, and The Prestige.

John David Washington and Robert Pattison lead as the Protagonist and the mysterious Niel, respectively. The Protagonist is set on a time-traveling mission to prevent the start of a coming war – armed with a single word – “Tenet”. 

From the trailer alone, it is clear that the plot of Tenet is heavy, but it is in no way incoherent. I was initially worried that I would lack the understanding of time inversion, but Nolan did a great job explaining it through both his stunning visuals and the Protagonist, who, like us, initially knows nothing of time inversion. It was actually the story itself that has me lost at some points, and I can almost guarantee that everyone’s first watch will leave them equally dumbfounded.

My most prominent criticism is actually a simple one- background noise consistently drowned out the actor’s voices, especially when the actors themselves were forced to talk through microphones and masks. Additionally, the sound mixing was a disaster, and I’m sure many important details that I kept searching for were revealed in dialogue that I just couldn’t listen to. What it came down to was essentially bookmarking moments you understood in your mind and trying to understand how the movie got from bookmark to bookmark.

In many ways, however, Tenet‘s complexity is an asset.  After watching it for a second time, I truly appreciated how every aspect of the movie folds into a neat package.

All of the scenarios that left you scratching your head suddenly make perfect sense. Motivations become clearer, and Nolan’s true moviemaking genius is revealed. The real question is whether or not extensively researching and rewatching to grasp Tenet’s plot is worth it. That’s up to you. 

Tenet’s visuals are amazing. I can’t fathom the pain and suffering that every single editor went through making this film. Perhaps even more impressive is that Tenet is absent of any green-screen effects. Yes, Nolan actually crashed a passenger plane into a building for this movie. There’s a scene towards the end that delivers everything a time-traveling spy movie should and it’s going to be one of Nolan’s most iconic sequences. I cannot credit Nolan enough for pulling off the action to perfection. It’s the sweetest eye candy, accompanied by an incredible score. Ludwig Gӧransoon replaced Hanz Zimmer as Nolan’s lead composer, and he absolutely killed it. The electronic beats in “Rainy Night in Tallinn” fit elegantly with Nolan’s sleek spy action sets, and listening to it blasting out of the cinema’s speakers was surprisingly pleasant. 

Unfortunately, some of Nolan’s recent problems have reemerged. While an overabundance of exposition plagued his previous films (especially Interstellar and Inception), Tenet might be the worst of all. Reasonably, Nolan had to include a lot of expositional dialogue to explain the dense contents of the plot, but there’s such a heavy volume of it that it’s hard to tell if Nolan trusts his audience or not; some points in the film were left for interpretation, while others felt as if the characters were reading Nolan’s script notes directly to us.

Unfortunately, character development is missing as well. While the main purpose of the Protagonist is to be someone onto which the viewer can project themselves, the end result is a blank slate, even despite John David Washington’s solid performance. The Russian egomaniac Sator was just a standardized spy movie villain; it’s unfortunate that he was never fleshed out enough to elevate his conflict with the Protagonist. Nolan traded his character development with an incredibly complex narrative, and he often took to stuffing his characters in the trunk and letting his story take the wheel. 

Tenet is a gargantuan achievement in storytelling that will keep delivering secrets long after it’s release. Nolan’s dynamic duo of unbelievable visuals and a hypnotic score is exactly what the first major blockbuster in a post-pandemic era needed. Despite its sound mixing horror and lack of memorable characters, Christopher Nolan’s visionary work continues to impress, and it definitely deserves a trip to the cinema.