Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' is a Palindrome in More Ways Than One
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Spoiler warning: This post may contain movie spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
Movie theaters are finally open again, which means date nights have resumed. My husband and I took full advantage of this opportunity. After careful consideration, we decided that Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' would be the perfect film to resume our regular ritual of attending the movies for date night.
We're both long-time fans of Nolan's films. Like most, I was drawn into his style of filming when I watched 'Batman Begins.' But the film that truly won me over was 'Inception' (coincidently it's the 10-year anniversary). I could not get enough of the mind puzzles the film posed, the flexibility and relativity of time, and the transcendence of love within the characters. Such mind puzzles and themes were also present in later films such as 'Interstellar'
So I went in, expecting much of the same mind-bending time illusions and character beauty as the other films. And I was met with it. Beginning in medias res, the audience is thrown into the excitement of the moment, gripped with the fast-paced action and mystery of our protagonist(as he is known through the entire film). Portrayed by John David Washington, he is an unnamed CIA agent who is given only a hand gesture and the word 'tenet' as a clue to his true purpose.
I loved our protagonist. A true, classic hero with values that I can root for throughout the entire film. His witty one-liners are reminiscent of classic cowboy westerns. He is likable and someone I want to succeed with. His ally and friend Niel (portrayed by Robert Pattinson) had that charismatic charm we all hope for in sidekicks. And Kat (portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki), the female lead won over my sympathy with her portrayal of feminine struggles against masculinity, and her strength to overcome. Both Priya and Andrei Sater (portrayed by Dimple Kapadia and Kenneth Branagh) were antagonists worthy of any James Bond film.
And of course, no Christopher Nolan mind puzzle film would be complete without some kind of time twist/element. Not to mention we finally have a time travel film that follows the laws of physics (as best as a movie can in a 2-dimensional platform). I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this. Our expert Niel even explains the paradoxes involved with time theory in a popular science sort of way. The inversion of time, turning the movie itself into a palindrome was clever.
But--there are some things that did not win me over like his other films.
The dialogue. Oh my, the dialogue in this film. Among the beautifully acted monologues were conversations that throw the audience out of their suspended disbelief. Much of the dialogue is written as though you were jumping into the end of a conversation, even if the characters just started one. Characters first time meeting speak without introductions and assume the audience will pick up or understand the context. Although it is good to recognize your audience is smart enough to figure most things out, it is not good to make them feel left out of the conversation.
And predictable. I found myself guessing most of the plot twists before they happened. Not in an "I figured out the puzzle" kind of way, but in a despondent manner. Near the beginning, when Niel confessed his time knowledge and having a master's degree in physics, I was disappointed that the protagonist did not figure Niel's connection to the time inversion tech. How could he not? When Niel's involvement was revealed, it was portrayed as the typical OMG moment. But my thoughts were more along the lines "you didn't figure this out sooner Mr. Protagonist?". And there was Kat's role in seducing and killing her husband Sater. Although satisfying, it was predictable.
I would also like to point out that Mr. Protagonist and Niel pulled a Dr. Who/Riversong meet-up with their friendship on inverted timelines. Another twist we saw coming long before it was revealed, assuming you're a Dr. Who fan.
Overall, I enjoyed this film. I loved watching it. It was a much-needed escape from the terror we've coined as 'the 2020 pandemic'. Even with the criticisms I have for this film, it is one I would see again and would recommend for anyone who enjoys Nolan-style films.
Thank you for reading, as always--enjoy life!