As you leave the theater after watching Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” you are likely to hear a babble of confused audience members meditating upon what they just saw unfold on the screen. Nolan’s new sci-fi thriller, starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki and Michael Caine, will melt your mind.
“Tenet” is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, originally set to release on July 17 of this year. However, because the COVID-19 pandemic forced movie theaters to shut down in March, the release date continued to get pushed back, adding to the mystique surrounding the film. The longer people waited for the film’s release, the more it became this mysterious, unattainable object of the public’s attention. For a film largely about the disorder of the universe, it is fitting for it to be released into the disordered world we find ourselves in today.
After being stuck at home for several months, confined to watching films on small screens, “Tenet” is the perfect film to revive your appetite for the movie-going experience. If you choose to go out and see “Tenet” on the big screen, while wearing a mask of course, you will feel that sense of cinematic awe that you have been missing since theaters shut down in March. Christopher Nolan takes advantage of every inch of the big screen and every sound-pumping speaker in the theater to tell this enthralling story.
Though some of the plot may be hard to follow, “Tenet” is fast-paced and entertaining. It is first and foremost a sci-fi film, but it has elements reminiscent of an international spy thriller, making it feel like a James Bond escapade with more physics. The film, which was shot in seven different countries and within cities like London and Mumbai, revolves around a CIA agent without a name (John David Washington), who is driven by the vague goal of “preventing World War III” and saving the world: a goal similarly mentioned in the trailer as preventing “something worse [than Armageddon.]”
But what makes this film recognizably an epic science-fiction film is its driving concept of time inversion. This is not time travel, but something involving much more advanced physics to understand. Time inversion is far more exciting to see on screen than to hear explained in dialogue. The “inversion of entropy” creates for some impressive action sequences involving explosions and high-speed car chases, that you see happen in regular time as well as in reverse time. And of course, Christopher Nolan is not one to fake anything in post-production, so he exploded real buildings and destroyed a real plane in the making of this film. John David Washington told CinemaBlend: “That was a real plane, and that was a real building that they crashed that plane into. And we, cast and crew, all witnessed it. It was epic! It was incredible, we all cheered and hurrayed and hurrahed when they yelled cut after Chris felt like he got it. That you saw is really what happened- at least the night I was there.”
To match the grandiose action sequences of the film is an equally shocking soundtrack by composer Ludwig Göransson. The soundtrack incorporates heavy percussion, along with futuristic soundscapes. The music has a strong presence in the film; it is loud. However, it is expertly mixed with the diegetic sounds to accompany the atmosphere of each scene in the film. With its bombastic visual effects and its abrasive soundtrack, “Tenet” is a full-body sensory experience.
Though the film is filled with ambiguities and unanswered questions, if you are familiar with Christopher Nolan’s previous work, such as “Inception” (2017) and “Interstellar” (2014), you’d see this is a trend amongst his films. This may frustrate some and excite others. But it may comfort some to know that though Nolan does not share his thoughts on the questions posed in his films, he does have an answer for himself. He said that in order “for an ambiguity to be productive” the filmmaker must have an “underlying truth” that he himself believes.
If you do decide to see the film, it may be best to go into the film taking the advice of one of the characters, an enigmatic English scientist (Clémence Poésy): “Don’t try to understand it, feel it.”
Nicole Bates can be reached at [email protected]