Do not try to understand it, feel it.
It was a weird feeling being inside a theatre after the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic was lifted. I went to an IMAX theatre in Tallinn, Estonia, for Tenet‘s midnight premiere, and I was not ready for what I saw on the screen.
Some portion of Tenet was filmed in Tallinn, Estonia, which is why the movie’s screening began with thankful words from Christopher Nolan. I am a recent export to Estonia, so I could not take the credit for being a gracious host to Nolan and his filming crew. Still, it was a nice thing from the director, and I could see people were smiling inside the theatre.
After the thank you message from Nolan, Ludwig Goransson’s score filtered through the speakers and a quiet fell over the audience. As the first few scenes were playing out on screen, I found myself holding my breath. I didn’t even know I was doing that until John David Washington’s character, The Protagonist, was running at full pace.
The anticipation and the holding of breath were a reaction to months of being locked in our homes and now, finally, seeing a Christopher Nolan movie after more than three years. I could tell, the two-third filled cinema hall was also anticipating this moment, and in a collective sigh of relief, we believed we are returning to normal.
Tenet is a Theatre Experience if You Can Manage it
Tenet was an experience for sure, everything it was build up to be, and the easiest way to get clicks would be for me to write a hit-piece about the film. But I am not doing that; also, I am not a critic, I am a fan of Nolan and his body of work which still found a way to astound me with Tenet.
Tenet‘s story is simple, considering Nolan had worked on the idea for more than 20 years. Tenet follows The Protagonist as he is given one world by an intelligence agency, Tenet, and asked to stop the destruction of the word based on that one word. Twenty minutes of science mumbo-jumbo stuff, which you will not understand, the movie takes off, and you will have only one question in your head, “What the hell is happening?”
As mentioned above, Tenet is not meant to be understood at the moment; you are supposed to feel the story along with The Protagonist. You are The Protagonist, and as John David Washington’s character learns something, you learn something. There is no point trying to get the expositions; everything is happening on the screen, Nolan is showing you, rather than telling you what is happening.
Yes, it is a confusing mess of a story, which requires repeated viewing, but that is probably the master director’s goal. This has been his way of making movies since he came to prominence with Memento, and if you are not familiar with his work by now or like his style, you won’t like it here either.
Every time I watch a Nolan movie, I go back to an interview, I saw him give about Memento‘s making. He explained the film, to its core, was about the clash between the subjective and the objective view of the information given/learned by the lead character (by proxy, the audience) in the film.
Subjectively The Protagonist in Tenet knows his job and ways of accomplishing it. But the objective part of the story is happening to him and is challenging the way the main character and we, the audience, view the events unfolding in the film. Nolan plays a three-card monte with the audience; no matter what you (the player) think is happening subjectively, (the dealer) objective part of the story will always win.
This type of movie needs to be seen in the largest possible screen to take in all the information, well, as safely as you can watch a film in a large theatre. Tenet was everything I hoped it would be, but I didn’t think the action in a Nolan movie would be the biggest plus point, even in my wildest imagination.
Tenet is an experience for the movie theatres, if possible.
Tenet features some of the most innovative action choreography I have seen since John Wick flipped action movies on its head with steady cam and gun-fu, from the trippy hand to hand combat scenes to weird car chases. The movie felt and looked like something which cost $200 million, but you won’t believe the number of practical shots in the film.
But not everything about the film was great; for some reason, I found Ludwig Goransson’s score, overpowering. I am a fan of the Academy Award winner, I still play Black Panther score, but I was squinting during the later part of the film because the music was so loud. Even some of the dialogs were indiscernible because of the score; also, Nolan’s running joke on the audience was back, making actors speak through face gears which cover their mouth.
Overall, I think Tenet is middle to top in the impressive filmography of Christopher Nolan. I will need to re-watch the film a couple more times to place it properly, but Tenet was an experience that lived up to the lofty heights set during the production and marketing period.
There are going to be detractors of the film, people, and critics who will say Nolan’s movies appear more profound than they actually are (probably), or he provides eye candy to distract the audience (definitely). There will also be people who will say Nolan has been moving laterally ever since the release of The Dark Knight made him the nerd darling.
Well, we need to look at it this way, if Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and Tenet equate to lateral moves, then I don’t think it is such a bad indictment on the director. There are harsh critics of Tenet, but I can say with almost certainty, in ten years’ time when we will be watching a $400 million budget movie on our six-inch phone we will put Tenet up as an outlier in a world which was moving further and further away from large cinema theatres.
Maybe someday I will have to resign to watching movies on my small screen phone. But while I still can, I will watch the biggest films on the biggest possible screen. Take it this way; I would rather come home with a 100-degree fever after watching Gravity in 3D (true story), then watch it on a six-inch phone. And I am glad for movies like Tenet, which is not only fighting for the survival of cinema but also the essence of what it means to watch moving pictures with a community.
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