ollowing a four month long dry spell of new releases, there’s finally a big blockbuster in theaters. Christopher Nolan’s long awaited disjointed sci-fi epic “Tenet” has arrived.
Nolan has always been a rebel when it comes to traditional narrative form. His first breakout hit “Memento” was told in reverse, with each scene offering context for the scene that preceded it. His 2010 dream epic “Inception” had plot-threads within plot-threads. With “Tenet”, he explores a new concept, time-travel. But not time travel like in “Back to the Future” or anything else you might’ve seen before. In this movie, characters travel forwards and backwards in time simultaneously to prevent an imminent apocalypse. I’ll avoid saying more not out of concern for spoilers, but so I don’t further confuse you or myself.
There’s a difference between a film that’s complex and one that’s downright convoluted. Complex implies that all the puzzle pieces are there and, with the proper amount of critical thinking and engagement on the viewer’s part, the film can be pieced together and understood. A convoluted movie meanwhile relies on moving at such a rapid pace that viewers are unable to retain their bearings, in the hopes that moviegoers will overlook the various plot holes and contrivances eroding the movie’s logical framework. “Tenet” is the latter of the two.
“Tenet” stars John David Washington (son of Denzel), fresh off a Golden Globe nomination for his role in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”, and Robert Pattinson, one of the hottest actors in Hollywood at the moment in terms of demand.
The movie feels heavily cut down despite its two-and-a-half-hour-long runtime. Characters spout plot heavy exposition onto deaf audience ears as they jump from one elaborate set piece to the next; set pieces that are admittedly awesome. For one sequence, Nolan crashed a real 747 into an airport hangar. The fight choreography and car chases are also very impressively done. Characters going towards and backwards in time clash with one another in frantic entanglements that look more like a kind of unnatural dance than a fight.
The movie’s score by composer Hoyte Van Hoytema is also worth mentioning. The film’s name “Tenet” is a palindrome, meaning it’s spelled the same forwards and backwards; like how the characters are moving forwards and backwards in time. Nolan apparently thought this was so clever that he decided to make the film’s music a palindrome as well. This sounds good in theory but in practice, the blaring noises ranged from slightly irritating to straight up obnoxious. The film’s dialogue was also incredibly difficult to hear. I don’t know if it was just a case of poor sound-mixing or if the low-audio was a deliberate creative decision by Nolan but regardless, I’ll have to re-watch the movie at home with subtitles on just to know what all the characters were saying.
What the film ultimately suffers from is a lack of humanity. Nolan put so much focus on the plot that he forgot to develop believable compelling characters. The protagonist’s credited name is literally protagonist. The actors give their all, but I imagine it was difficult bringing an honestly to their characters when they didn’t even know what was going on in any given scene. Nolan has unfortunately reached the pinnacle of intellectual pretentiousness. Whereas early in his career, he had his brother and others to reign in and develop his heady ideas, now studios will throw money at any script with his name attached.
In spite of the film’s poor obnoxious audio, its convoluted plot, its lack of emotional depth and any other gripe I might list, I must admit, it was nice seeing a movie in the theater again.
Griffin Hicks is a staff writer for the Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.