Don’t try to understand it, feel itTENET, 2020.
~Spoiler-free review of TENET~
So much has happened between my last post and this latest one. How have we been? (just fine) How many movies have we seen? (tens) How many television episodes have we watched? (tens) How many online classes have we skipped? (a couple) And most importantly, how many hours of sleep have we had? (let’s not go there)
After hundred of pandemic days and series of postponements, TENƎꓕ is finally showing in theatres, the way Christopher Nolan envisioned it. It was never going to come directly to home video or VOD, despite being the format that would’ve suited the movie in the selfish interests of the viewers. With cinemas opening their doors once again to the public, under strict hygiene measures and social distancing, I experienced TENƎꓕ.
In Christopher Nolan’s latest SciFi offering, TENƎꓕ stars David Washington as the Protagonist (the same name he is literally called throughout the film), working for a secret agency whose next mission is to stop world war 3 which they believe would be masterminded by a Russian arms dealer. However, the parties on both sides of the impending war are equipped with a technology that changes the entropy of an object and as a result is capable of inverting time- basically backwards movement of time, which includes capability to alter the events that have taken place.
For those deeply interested in this movie, I bet we’ve all seen the mysterious trailers. This is not fully a time travel movie, although some borrowed elements from the genre are also employed. TENƎꓕ integrates an original concept that raises the stakes and transforms what would’ve been a bland and familiar plot into a newly seasoned product. Referring to the story without the time inversion aspect as bland is more descriptive than insulting. As the movie without the time inversion SciFi aspect, is just a familiar global espionage flick, whereby the protagonist races in time (in this case, forward and backwards) to save the world. But this time inversion thingy adds a new dimension to the excitement.
Due to the pandemic, this ‘product’ has been heralded as cinema’s saviour- one to look forward to as soon as cinemas reopened and maybe usher in a new era of newly found appreciation for movies as a whole.
Sadly, single viewing won’t cut it to fully understand the scale of this movie and appreciate the spice of originality. But I had to write and publish my first hand feelings and thoughts. Over the course of September, if I get extra funds, I might decide to see it for a second time or more and maybe publish an updated ‘analysis’ review.
For a movie heralded as the saviour of cinema, it shouldn’t be one that is this complex or mindbending. The group that cinema needs to attract at the moment are people who wouldn’t come to a cinema if it’s not a blockbuster. Cinema needs people coming in more frequently, even to watch indie dramas, if it wants the longevity it desires. Movies like Nolan’s might only push them away as I do not expect the film to appeal to all, despite its innovation. It would only make sense if the trick all along is to lure us to theatre for multiple viewings which would mean more tickets sale. *inserts roll safe meme*
But since when should a movie even appeal to all? Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this movie, although I’ve never watched such without my forward, rewind and playback buttons which online streaming and home video have spoilt me with. I would normally watch such movies at home, with the ability to rewind when I please, such as other Christopher Nolan movies (Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, Interstellar, Inception & The Prestige) that I have seen. Nevertheless, it is still a cinema experience that I would hold for a long time.
Moving away from how or if TENƎꓕ would save cinema or not. The acting was awesome in all areas which is also a testament to the work of the genius on the director’s chair, Christopher Nolan, who also wrote the original script. Lead actor, John David Washington possesses this swagger I’ve not seen in a long time. It reminded me of a similar screen composure I commended when I watched his dad, Denzel Washington, in Training Day recently. This is definitely in the family. John David Washington effortlessly draws attention to his whole face, which includes his facial movements, his beards, and a particular way his mouth moves when he picks his words. He uses certain facial mannerisms to effectively guide the story as I also enjoyed with his role in BlacKkKlansman. He makes sure he owns the frame of whichever scene he finds himself in and this helps to escort the audience on this thrilling adventure. Furthermore, Nolan’s writing introduces us to this world from the Protagonist’s perspective as he serves as a proxy, who is as much of a newbie to time inversion as we also are. Washington is such a fine leading man in this movie. Also, he is well supported by Robert Pattinson, with whom he boasts a good chemistry on screen. Others, such a Elizabeth Debicki (Widows) also put in a good shift in translating her ‘damsel in distress‘ character on screen, who was not made totally powerless by the writing either. TENƎꓕ features other actors like Michael Caine in a brief role, Kenneth Branagh (Henry V), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron) amongst others in smaller roles.
As I normally do spoiler free reviews, this movie even makes it easy for me. Saying anything more about the plot will definitely lead to me spoiling interesting reveals and bits in the movie. TENƎꓕ deserves its own special analysis post as every part can and should be critically analysed but only after multiple viewings. The complex nature of the movie is on a greater scale than Inception. If you loved how you felt after seeing Inception, then this is a movie for you. On another hand, I believe, this is just meant to serve as an experience and there is no harm if you’ve not understood what you’ve seen on screen afterwards. Although, it might make you mad for ‘throwing away’ money or some sort. Not understanding a movie does not erase an entertaining experience which TENƎꓕ strives to deliver and which it does. I would deduce that Nolan had only designed this to be a mere experience and not something to take home and pick crucial life lessons from. “Just come in, have fun with this original story featuring a mind bending spice that I’ve added and get lost in a mesh of grinding and gruelling sounds which might make my dialogues a little bit inaudible sometimes.” But who cares? IT IS AN EXPERIENCE. Just enjoy it. Don’t think too deep. Thinking too deep will only rub you of this so called experience. Early in the movie, while a character was trying to introduce the idea of time inversion to the Protagonist, she advised, “do not try to understand it, just FEEL it.” Emphasis on the ‘feel’. Take this as Nolan and Vibes incorporated! Or maybe I’m personally not just smart enough. I would probably fall in the lower 50% of smart people, so I did not bother over stressing. I just vibed and had a good time with the moving pictures and meshing sounds, curated by Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther).
Due to the complex nature of time inversion, the characters try to explain the concept over the course of the movie as the protagonist also gradually learns how it works. As the film unfolds on its own, it’s not either you understand or you don’t. You definitely will understand some plot points. It’s only a question of how much or how well. Maybe, if you’re ready to spend on multiple visits to the cinema, you might even understand fully.
Additionally, it is a question of how much you feel, how much your senses are triggered and heightened. With the film unfolding gradually, the stakes change and the characters’ understanding of time inversion progress. We can also use this progress as a rule of thumb for measuring our own understanding.
Nolan’s TENƎꓕ features impressive stunts as very little VFX (green screen) was used in the movie. The reported budget for the film is $225 million, which makes it the most expensive original film of Nolan’s career.
A number of fight scenes featuring time inversion were acted out in that backward sequence which makes the level of production behind it even more astounding. This is the work of a man who genuinely loves cinema. I read criticism citing TENƎꓕ as humourless, but I feel like having more humour than it had wouldn’t have done it any good. Are people getting over-spoiled by the MCU and cheeky one liners?
I remember laughing once or twice during the movie. At the same time, that doesn’t reduce my appreciation for the work as it was a great action film that it was meant to be, it was a mindblowing SciFi as a science nerd would’ve loved and thrilling enough to keep me in the theatre for two and a half hours without feeling the long length (not like I’ve ever walked out of a cinema mid-movie before). A sprinkle of more humour would’ve confused the movie even more.
It set out to be what it wanted to be without compromising and achieved it by sacrificing viewers’ thorough understanding of the concept for mindblowing entertainment and spectacle.
- I really hope David Washington never picks up a superhero role. He should keep on making amazing movies filled with human characters as we know it. He is about hitting the stage when Disney comes knocking.
- I wonder how Nolan’s mind works honestly. Tenet, written by Christopher Nolan makes me wonder if this original ‘time inversion’ idea that gives the story an extra edge was provided to him by a physicist or it was his original concept which he got further consultation on. It is an interesting concept that other directors could work with, tweak or expand in the future. Time traveling is getting boring, isn’t it?
- I am looking forward to the cinema sins review of TENET. For someone who manages to understand the movie very well, I can bet there are numerous plot holes to be discovered.
I understand this hasn’t been released fully all around the world. But if you’ve seen Tenet, let me know what you think in the comments section or on my social media page. If not, how excited are you to see it? When does it get released in your country? Let me know below. I personally can’t wait for it to hit home video or a streaming service.
RIP, Chadwick ‘Bossman’ Boseman