Finally!! Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020) was the final movie I saw in 2020, AND the first movie I saw in 2021. Wanna know why?
Because I rewatched it!! I had to see it twice, back to back. Not because I loved it like Zootopia (2016) or it was timeless and aesthetic like The Pianist (2002) or cos I wanted to watch part 2 like Frozen (2013).
No. T’was because the first time I saw it, I didn’t understand a thing. I didn’t know what was going on, where it was going, or why it was going on. For a visually appealing film with big stars, mad action scenes, plot twists, and a really cool plot concept, I was lost through most of the movie. Close to the end of the movie I already knew that for my own sanity as a movie fanatic,
I had to watch it again!!
Wanna know the 5 things that made TENET so annoying? Hang on, I’ll tell you.
Tenet is a 2020 sci-fi action-thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk (2017) starring John David Washington [BlacKkKlansman (2018)], Robert Pattinson (Twilight Saga), Elizabeth Debicki [The Great Gatsby (2013)] Dimple Kapadia, and Kenneth Branagh [Conspiracy (2001)]. The film follows The Protagonist, a secret agent who learns to manipulate the flow of time to prevent an attack from the future that threatens to destroy the present world.
Tenet is a mind-blowing cerebral film, cos trust me, you can’t just watch it while munching on popcorn and sipping soda. You have to think. Really hard. And fast cos the movie doesn’t handhold or wait for you to understand.
Now if I see Tenet as a must-watch movie and the best 2020 movie I’ve seen (so far 😉), why then do I find it annoying?
I’m glad you asked. Here are my reasons. Lets jump right in.
⚠️ Spoilers ahead ⚠️
1. Very Confusing Scenes
Ives: They’re running a temporal pincer movement.
The Protagonist: A what?
Ives: Pincer movement. But not in space, in time. Half his team moves forward through the event. He monitors them and then attacks at the end moving backwards. Knowing everything.
Tenet opens with the ‘Kyiv opera siege’ where The Protagonist (John David Washington) is first introduced as an undercover CIA agent sent to retrieve an asset. The mission fails and The Protagonist and his team are captured. He is tortured before he commits suicide by consuming cyanide — only for us to find out that the cyanide pills were fake.
Now, this scene sounds easy to understand. Except it isn’t. I had to rewind 3 times to even grasp the basic concept. But the plot doesn’t care. Tenet is littered with many scenes that are impossible to understand with just one viewing; The opening scene I mentioned, the aftermath of the inverted ‘Plutonium-241’ heist, Sator’s questioning of The Protagonist halfway into the movie, and the film’s climactic end. All these put together makes Tenet at first glance seem unwatchable.
2. The movie is way too cryptic.
“Ignorance is our ammunition.”
Tenet basically says one thing “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” And honesty the movie didn’t try to make itself understandable. The movie was unwilling to explain itself and was only comfortable with giving us occasional ‘info-dumps’. There were many hidden clues and plot twists scattered throughout the story, but they were totally missable. Even after a repeat viewing, you’ll still miss many of them.
The Protagonist: This reversing the flow of time… doesn’t us being here now, mean it never happened? Could we stop them?
Neil: Optimistically, I’d say that’s right.
The Protagonist: Pessimistically?
Neil: In a parallel world theory, we can’t know the relationship between consciousness and multiple realities. Does your head hurt yet? Try to get some sleep.
And the dialogue? Half the time we don’t know what the characters are talking about, even the characters don’t know what they are talking about. The movie just drops little bits of info for us to follow up on the story but they end up being either too subtle or being full-blown exposition.
3. Zero Character background.
Now, I did love all the movie characters, from The Protagonist to the mysterious Neil, even the TENET commanders Ives and Wheeler. Yet I didn’t really connect with the characters.
Like The Protagonist? Cool name, except it’s not a name at all. And Neil? Who the f**k is he and how did The Protagonist reach out to him in India. And just how big is TENET? What is Tenet? Is it a secret organization or a CIA or British funded organization? Guess we’ll never know.
The Protagonist: What’s happened, happened. I get it now. But it’s harder to take things on trust from people speaking half-truths.
Neil: That’s not fair.
The Protagonist: You were a part of this before we met. Were you working for Priya?
The Protagonist: Who recruited you, Neil?
Neil: Can’t possibly do you any good to know that right now. When this is over, we’re still standing, and you still care, then you can hear my life story, okay?
Even Andrei Sator is basically a storyboard villain, complete with a Russian accent, cold demeanor, wife-beating monstrosity, and world-ending fanaticism. Other than that there’s nothing more we know about him, his true origins, his true drive, and motive. Just nothing. So if you’re looking for memorable characters to follow, Tenet is the wrong movie to watch. Just focus on the actors and their really cool suits.
4. The Sound quality sucks.
By nature I’m a subtitle freak cos I don’t like missing any piece of a movie. Paying rapt attention to a movie’s dialogue is very important to me. Hell, I even rewatch movies I see at the theater cos I see it cinema-going chiefly as an outing.
And how does it relate to Tenet?
Well, 30 mins into the movie I turned off the subtitles cos I felt I wasn’t understanding the movie cos I too focused on reading subtitles. But this is where my troubles began. The movie was loud, yet I couldn’t hear shit from the dialogue. The background noises kept drowning out the characters’ voices. 5 minutes later turned the subtitles back on.
Thank God I wasn’t viewing it at the cinema.
4. The ‘Inversion’ Concept gets in the way of the plot.
Wheeler: When you exit the airlock, take a moment to orient yourself. Things will feel strange. When you run, the wind will be at your back. You encounter fire, ice will form on your clothes as transferred heat is reversed. Gravity would feel normal but you’re reversed from the world around you. You may experience distortions in your vision and hearing, this is normal.
The Protagonist: Can I drive a car?
Wheeler: I can’t vouch for the handling. Friction and wind resistance are reversed. You are inverted, the world is not.
My best series of all time is AMC’s Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013). Breaking Bad followed the turn of the main character Walter White (aka Heisenberg) from an unimportant high school chemistry teacher to one of the greatest meth lords of his time.
Now long story short, Breaking Bad was full of chemistry-related jargon, labs and lab equipment were commonplace in the series, even the periodic table was used in the intro.
Now I don’t know anything about chemistry, yet I idolized the series, and still is my best (to hell with GOT) because the focus of the story wasn’t on the chemistry aspect and labs, but on the plot and character development.
Tenet is the EXACT OPPOSITE. It’s all bout inversion! Inversion! Inversion! Inversion! Honestly, the film could have been named ‘Inversion’ cos inversion was mentioned more than a dozen times in the movie.
Here’s the thing about Tenet. Christopher Nolan (one of my least favorite top directors, cos of Dunkirk 2017) created the really cool concept of Inversion. Yet, if you don’t understand the concept, then the movie is totally lost on you. Why? Cos the time inversion concept which Is very complex and complicated takes a front seat to the story, and this combined with the confusing scenes, zero character background and the crypticness of the movie makes the film at first watch unbearably annoying. In any movie, storytelling should always come first before concept! Not the other way around!
Now Tenet isn’t as bad as it seems. Even after being lost after watching it the first time, I still admired a lot about the movie. I was awed by the movie’s visual style, it’s unique high brow fashion and it’s brilliant multinational settings. And the actors? I wasn’t really familiar with John David Washington (and I didn’t fancy Robert Pattinson because of the girly Twilight Saga) but I was familiar with the onscreen performances of Kenneth Branaugh and Aaron Taylor Johnson and thrilled with the graceful performance of Dimple Kapadia. The movie was star-studded and their acting gave life to otherwise dead characters.
One thing remains clear, I loved Tenet. But you won’t understand the movie at first watch. But don’t worry your later future self will.
Now, what do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions in the poll or the comments section, though. I hope you like my 2nd movie review post, and if you don’t, well, all I can say is,
“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”
What did you think about Tenet?