Continuing my impromptu season of Christopher Nolan movies (after Inception the night before) I dared to give Tenet a re-watch. I shall now invert this post so that I can read it in December last year and thus reveal to my earlier self immediately that no, it really doesn’t make any more sense a second time (Claire bought me this 4K for Christmas, and instead of being the gift that keeps giving its rather the gift that keeps confusing).
I tried, God knows I tried. I even switched the subtitles on midway, having grown exhausted trying to decipher the at times unfathomable dialogue lost in the audio mix (is Nolan being deliberately obtuse?), but alas even when reading all the dialogue exposition the film doesn’t make any more sense than it did when I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. One of the characters early on tells another to “don’t think it, feel it” or something along those lines; perhaps its a message more intended towards the audience. Its telling that Nolan doesn’t even name his main character, literally he’s ‘The Protagonist’ and nothing more. A few times when watching this film I had to wonder, is the joke on us?
On the one hand, perhaps I should applaud Nolan for outdoing his confusing tinkering with Time in Dunkirk, Interstellar and Inception. On the other hand, perhaps I should berate him for appalling crimes against storytelling. Sometimes you can be just too clever for your own good. Nolan is clearly inspired by the films of Stanley Kubrick, but Kubrick’s films, 2001, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, as obtuse as they may seem on first viewing, they ultimately have a sense of logic and make sense, even if it has to be explained to us.
Besides, I have the suspicion, in just the same way as Interstellar and Inception both tend to eventually slide into silly nonsense, that Tenet rather gets so wrapped up in twists of logic and Time-paradoxes that it rather cheats its own rules. I’m not sure Tenet plays fair with its audience. Maybe on some subsequent re-watch I’ll have some “Eureka!” moment but at the minute, I think Nolan’s playing a bit fast and loose here. I’m not certain Tenet ever makes coherent sense no matter how many times I’ll watch it.
Which is frustrating, because the general premise is fascinating and worthy of a better movie, even if that premise (we are at war with the Future to prevent Armageddon), itself doesn’t make much sense (how does killing everyone on the planet in the here and now help the unborn Future?). I think a film with more traditional time travel would have worked much better- Nolan is trying to be too novel with his ‘inverted’ objects and characters, it is sophistication for sophistication’s sake. Its Skynet trying to confuse us to death.
I’m still trying to fathom how Kenneth Branagh’s Fitbit would trigger Armageddon whenever it suddenly can’t find a pulse, when said bomb in Russia seems to be on a countdown clock anyway. We’re just expected to accept all these info dumps of exposition and go along with it, just enjoy the spectacle and assume people cleverer than us can make sense of it all.
At least it looks pretty: the 4K disc is quite gorgeous, particularly the many Imax sequences for which the aspect ratio opens up to fill the whole 16:9 screen. Detail and depth are breath-taking at times, the apparent depth of field making it look almost 3D. I just wish it made a bit more sense, or ANY sense, really. I’m afraid this is another example of Nolan finding a way of financing extraordinary set-pieces with his big fancy film-making Toybox.
No wonder he was annoyed at the Warner slate going to HBO Max this year. What’s the point of a Nolan film (Imax, extraordinary set-pieces, imponderable audio etc) if it just ends up in someone’s lounge? Inverted messages from the Future please to the comments below…