Christopher Nolan is cinema’s own golden son—the prodigy to save the so-called cinematic experience and the giant screens from the impending extinction. His latest spectacle, Tenet, becomes the solid proof of how the cinema’s grandiosity must survive amidst atrocities. This is an original action blockbuster at its finest with a clear-cut demand: to be indulged in the best available cinema. From the cutting-edge practical effect showcases; blustering globe-trotting set-pieces; exhaustive narrative that demands re-watches; to Ludwig Göransson‘s electrifying scoring complemented Jennifer Lame‘s merciless edit; everything about Tenet is cerebral.
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Nolan‘s exercise on temporal manipulation peaks with Tenet, but this is not a time-bending story like Interstellar (time relativity) and Inception (time elongation) nor chronological manipulation in the cutting room, like Memento or Dunkirk. Starring John David Washington as a nameless Protagonist, the narrative tastes like a modern-time Cold War espionage thriller with temporal anomaly at its center. The Protagonist is a former tried-and-tested CIA agents tasked with a dire mission to prevent World War III from happening. The enemy, shrouded with layers of mysteries, is manifested by the herald, a Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh in his second collaboration with the director), gifted with the film’s prized elements: time inversion. Provided with only an obscure gesture and the titular keyword, The Protagonist will embark in a series of investigation and harbinger mission assisted by a flamboyant spec-op agent (portrayed by Robert Pattinson) living in twilight world.
Whether it’s the confidence or the swagger taking ahold, Tenet seemingly trusts audiences with all the comprehending tasks as the fast-moving plot relentlessly moves forward, leaving no pause to digest. Nolan’s visionary idea and the final execution walk hand-in-hand with scalpel precisions from the heart-pounding opening scene. The Kiev opera scene sets the bar high with Hoyte van Hoytema‘s camera fastidiously and swiftly captures every single spectacle that moves like a clockwork as Göransson‘s scoring functions as a metronome. That means the film’s never running out of set-pieces, in which the director keeps testing his vision for practical filmmaking to the next level, including in breaking in a bungee-jumpable building, crashing a real 747 plane (in a more extravagant bonanza to topple the plane-dumping spectacle in The Dark Knight Rises), and inverting the traffic in a real highway. And yet, the director still saves the best for the last—in a slickly choreographed temporal pincer movements (it’s a term I’m trying best to avoid but apparently it’s inevitable). The grandiosity is something to expect in any way.
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The plot is a singularity and discussing it in details may spark nothing but spoilers, especially regarding the inversion mechanism. No wonder Tenet‘s plot leaves no space to ponder let alone discuss. However, as much as the plot that best serves the definition of palindrome becomes the film’s most enticing element, it turns to be its weak link at the same time. To be as spoiler-free as possible, the simplest description that fits Tenet is a story that moves from two opposite ends. Unfortunately, our brains process the flow of time in a linear stream; processing any event in inversion isn’t something that the brain can accept. Therefore, Tenet‘s duality is limited to our capability to digest the linear timeline. Imagine how unfeasible it is to present a story that moves in two opposite directions from the perspective of only one end. Nolan understand that and he resorts to reducing the second direction story to a mere spectacle that needs further exposition in the end.
With all the cinematic nastiness, Tenet proves the director’s commitment to keep the big screen thriving. It’s the reason why cinema exists—as a means of wild escapism and a channel to human’s astounding imagination. This time, Nolan serves everything in a silver plate for audiences. Should you take it as a treat or a challenge, the director has already incepted his message on screen… quite blatantly. “Don’t try to understand it, feel it.” That’s the gesture and magic words to get you through the twilight world of Tenet.