What even happened in Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet”?

Picture getting stuck in traffic on a busy day. You’re tired and bored, but you need to concentrate on the road; you did put yourself in the driver’s seat, after all. However, you’re also trying to hear your friend from the backseat (who seems to be swallowing all her words) over the loud honking from impatient drivers. This perfectly describes the experience of watching Christopher Nolan’s latest film“Tenet”

Starring John David Washington as “the protagonist,” (the actual name of the character in the film) “Tenet” follows the story of a secret agent as he attempts to save the world from impending doom by going on a mission that, quite literally, bends time. 

Beautifully paced and shot, “Tenet” pulls the audience into its story from the very start. The opening scene effectively introduces the viewers to the sheer scale and theatrics that can be expected from this film. The score by Ludwig Göransson elevated the film’s intrigue. Stepping in for Nolan’s usual composer, Hans Zimmer, Göransson’s score was equally memorable and exciting. “Tenet” is where Nolan proved himself to be an ambitious filmmaker who makes the impossible possible. The action scenes in the third act were mind-blowing. I still cannot wrap my head around the scale of those scenes and the technicality of it. He makes people fighting backward and forwards in the same frame look like a piece of cake to create. However, while Nolan’s love letter to the science of time can be appreciated, the film fails to connect with the audience on many levels, creating a strong feeling of dissatisfaction. 

Anyone who knows and loves Nolan’s ability to explore the complexity of time and science through his ambitious and visually stunning films will know how tedious his films can be. The science behind the film falls apart if you look too closely. Regardless, the stand out performances, gripping scores and one-of-a-kind filming makes up for the expositive dialogues and plot holes. However, “Tenet” takes these flaws from Nolan’s films and magnifies them while leaving out a lot of the things that would compensate for these flaws. 

The concept of inversion, which is the driving force in this movie, is difficult to comprehend— especially when the film does little to explain itself. The plot felt lazy and went unexplained most of the time through both visuals and dialogue—a staple of Nolan’s. Information that was pivotal to not only understanding the film, but to enjoying it, were not communicated effectively. But, this wasn’t even the worst part. The sound mixing in this film made any dialogue inaudible, making a viewing without subtitles insufferable. The inconsistencies in the sound mixing made the few major info-dumps very hard to hear, leaving the audience lost for most of the film. There are a few instances where Dimple Kapadia’s character Priya, who existed purely to try to explain the plot, would come in and talk about the science of time in a matter-of-factly manner. This almost mocked the audience members for not keeping up.

“Tenet” focused too much on the spectacle and not enough on story building, acting or dialogues. The dialogues in this film, when audible, were filled with strange metaphors that felt very out of place. Even though Nolan had some great actors like John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki at his disposal, they all lacked personality. These characters were devoid of a certain depth that Nolan’s other characters usually have, but considering that this is an action-spy film, I’m sure it was intentional. However, it’s not so much the lack of depth or emotional investment in these characters that bothered me, but that Nolan was expecting the audience to be invested in certain characters and their relationships. Ironic, really, considering he didn’t even give his main character a name—instead, crediting him as “the protagonist.” This is emotional detachment at its best. How can the audience care about the characters if they don’t know anything about them? How can they connect and enjoy a film when the motivation of the protagonist was never explained, nor were the stakes truly felt?

At the end of the day, “Tenet” felt like a pretentious film that only existed for the spectacle. It is an expensive-looking movie with little to no substance, no clear tone or voice and no emotion. While rewatching helps the movie make sense, “Tenet” is probably one of Nolan’s weakest films. 

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