It’s hard to believe that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and after about six months of closure, movie theaters are once again open to the public, and a new Christopher Nolan film is our welcome back. “Tenet” is Christopher Nolan’s eleventh feature film, and may be his boldest yet. The film stars John David Washington as a character simply named The Protagonist, in a film that is hard to follow, yet always engaging. The film has mind-melting visuals and a musical score that draws you in, but there isn’t much under the surface of this one.
Without spoilers, this film deals with the concept of time inversion and moving back through time while other events are playing out in real-time. If you’re confused by that, you are not alone because this device is a trip. Nolan definitely relies too much on the audience being able to grasp these ideas, which I respect as a viewer, but it definitely could use a little more explanation in some scenes. This is odd since most character interactions in “Tenet” exist to reveal plot details to the viewer.
The visuals are the highlight of the film by far. Putting the pieces together as to who is where at a certain point, as well as who is moving forwards and backwards is a ton of fun. This film really activates your senses in a way I have not recently seen. It constantly moves forward with thrilling sequences using practical effects, while also asking the viewer to think about where the characters are. Some of my favorite sequences involve a real plane being crashed into the side of a hanger and a car flipping backward in time while the protagonists chase the villain. Both of these sequences are stunning on the first watch, but have lasting effects when the film chooses to return to them in a different way.
The central cast is very strong, with Elizabeth Debicki’s character, Kat, being given the most thematic material to work with. Her subplot is definitely the most engaging aspect of the film from a character perspective. Her relationship with the villain, played excellently by Kenneth Branagh, made me feel the most for her character in this film. That being said, there isn’t much else to grasp onto in an emotional sense in “Tenet.” It has a strong, gripping central narrative with a great subplot, but a lot of the characters feel hollow and are not very strong. John David Washington’s character is almost meant to be a placeholder for the audience, but Robert Pattinson’s character, Neil, while charismatic, is not interesting on his own. This is definitely going to affect how frequently I rewatch “Tenet.”
“Tenet” is definitely a film you need to see twice. There are so many moving pieces and puzzles to solve throughout it that it’s definitely worth your time. The visuals are unlike anything I’ve seen before. It is an experience that lends itself to IMAX, the format in which I saw it. The central story is very engaging from beginning to end, even if you don’t know what is happening 50 percent of the time. My only wish is that the characters were stronger. They feel more like devices for the story to play with, rather than characters who are acting independently, based on their own traits. I still definitely recommend that you see “Tenet” on the biggest screen you can, whenever you feel comfortable seeing it.