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Kyle Says Tenet Suffers From Nolan’s Ambitions

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by Kyle Arango

Christopher Nolan is the most popular filmmaker currently with audiences who are loyal to him and will flock out every single time he releases a new film. This year has been different considering the corona virus, but Nolan insisted on his film Tenet to be the first film back in cinemas to save the theater industry. Ambitious? Yes. Dangerous? Possibly, but you have to see a Nolan film on the big screen. Was this one worth it? It is tough to say. If you are a Nolan fan you will love this one but if not, you may have a tough experience.

To even begin to describe the plot of Tenet is a daunting task. On one hand I don’t want to spoil it because I know people are sensitive about even the smallest details and on the other hand, I am so confused on the plot I don’t know if I could describe what happened accurately. I’ll do my best. Tenet follows John David Washington as a solider who is recruited by this secret agency that helps keep reality it tact. They specialize in using a technology created in the future that allows them to perceive time backwards and manipulate it. His new job sends him on a journey of international espionage involving time and war that will prevent the end of it. To communicate, they only have a word that opens doors for them, Tenet. I have mentioned it a couple times already, but boy is this film confusing, even to the point where the characters did not understand what was happening. There is a line of dialogue where a character states to “don’t try and understand it, you have to feel it”, and that is basically the lesson of the film. If you just take in the experience, you will enjoy it.

The most fascinating part of this is the Christopher Nolan of it all. This man is known for his larger than life concepts in a world grounded in reality that take you on a journey you have never experienced. He has the same tropes in all of them, business men protagonist in suits leading the way, a loud score, and more recently, a lack of character development. All of these things can either elevate or denigrate the film, and it is really a mixture. The sound mix on this is awful in this sense. With a film whose concept is this complicated, it hurts me as an audience member when I can’t hear what the characters are saying because the music is so loud. You miss so much that should be important and it can make your eyes just glaze over. On the other side, the time manipulation is exceptional. The first half, things don’t make sense and part way through, they do something that I have never seen done before. It is so cool that it almost makes me forgive everything else that was a problem, but not quite. Nolan thinks out his plot so much that he forgets to address other smaller details.

Tenet Robert Pattinson and John David Washington Bend Time in First Trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

When it comes to the characters, it is the same old same old you expect to see from Nolan. Business men who are closed off and dressed in suits who just are there to accomplish their mission. There really is no personality which is why the Joker in The Dark Knight stands out so much. In Tenet, it’s the same thing. John David Washington has a charisma and charm to him, but it feels like the film is doing everything it can to pull that away from him. He doesn’t even have a name! They just call him “The Protagonist”. Robert Pattinson tries to do something with this character, but he is so shrouded in mystery that it feels like we are missing so much detail about him. Once again, the characters get the shaft in a Nolan film. At least it isn’t as egregious as Dunkirk where they could’ve just pulled the first 1,000 people they saw in the U.K. and nothing would be different. Nobody but Kenneth Branagh stands out in this film and Branagh only does because he is freakin’ Kenneth Branagh!

I know exactly where this is going. If you are a Nolan fan, there is not telling you that a film of his has a flaw. Many already made up their mind that it is a masterpiece before even seeing it. He has that reputation that is impenetrable, so there is no changing your mind. Everyone else, Tenet is a good movie, but far from his best. Just a little bit more focus on many areas could’ve made this film so much better because there is something special there, you just have to dig to find it.