As written by fate, I finally got around to watching Tenet. And because it took me so long, I had been warned by the future. I knew it would be confusing. I knew I would have to watch it twice. I knew I would have to be on my story intaking A-game.
So I turned on the subtitles. I waited until my wife was not home. I ignored my attention seeking cat, and I locked in.
Halfway through the movie, I was in love, ingesting Nolan imagery and storytelling at its finest. This was going to be my favorite Nolan film. Those who didn’t understand it or had to watch it twice (pathetic) were not on my comprehension level.
After I finished the movie… maybe not so much.
I am not special or unique, and I am not going to pretend to be special for the sake of my ego, this blog, and/or my perceived role of writing a comprehensive review. So I will not pretend like I understood it all, and I have not watched it enough times to understand it all. Instead, I want to write about some questions I have in the wake of my first viewing, questions I hope to get answered in subsequent re-watches.
If you want to answer my questions in a temporal pincer move, go right ahead and hit up the comments.
Did the inverted machinery ever really play a factor?
The inversion technique I felt I grasped the best the quickest was the bullets- and other machinery- that were inverted and thus reloaded a weapon rather than discharge it or went into your hand rather than drop onto the table. But after it was introduced, did it ever show up again? Once people got inverted, did we ever deal with inverted machinery other than the ones those people handled?
I think if I went back and re-watched the opening opera scene, I would see the Protagonist saving his own life with an inverted bullet, but is that true? And if it is, is that the extent of it?
And on a smaller note, how did the bullets end up in the wall in the shooting range? Did they find that stone slab that way from the future? Those were the type of questions I thought we were going to deal with later.
It was such a cool concept, and we assumed it was important, with inverted guns and nuclear weapons enough of a conflict to carry a storyline, but then… I am not sure where that plot line went.
What are the finer points of inversion in that last scene (which was actually the first scene because it happened before everything else… oh man it’s happening again)?
So, here is what I do understand. When you are inverted you move backwards but you look like you are moving forwards and everything else is moving backwards.
And when you are not inverted, someone who is inverted operates backwards (as seen in that cool fight scene between the Protagonist and his inverted self and the backwards driving car).
And when you are inverted you also have autonomy to interact with the non-inverted world as it moves forward, benefitting from the hindsight of knowing what was going to happen.
This all culminates in the final scene in a temporal pincer move where…
One group inverts, goes back in time, and reverts to invade the base moving forward.
They are aided by an inverted group who invades the base backwards, who end their fight at the beginning of the invasion, and therefore tell the non-inverted group what happens.
So I guess I get confused about the imagery… who is moving backwards and forwards and when? When the crates are dropped by the helicopters and release backwards moving people, that is the inverted group having just finished their mission. But didn’t they already finish and give intel to the noninverted group? I guess that would make sense because after they invert-fight their battle, they are able to tell the non-inverted group what happened because they are moving away from the battle as the other group moves towards it.
Then I guess what is left is small moments where an inverted group interacts with scenery that helps the non-inverted group or vice versa. And I suppose that is Nolan enticing me to watch it all again knowing what to look for, but that’s a tough ask. I am not sure I can keep all that in my brain at once to be able to enjoy those finer points a re-watch would offer as reward…
What is Priya’s role?
I felt like I understood her role the entire film as some important arms dealer, until the end, where it felt like I was supposed to perceive her as something else. Like I think there was a twist, but I didn’t catch it. She was working for the Protagonist… but what does that mean for the entire story that went before? And why was she going to kill Sator’s wife at the end of the movie? I don’t think I could clearly articulate this.
Why did they need to be so precise with Sator’s death?
I also thought I knew what was going on with Sator’s death happening simultaneous to the capturing of the nine capsules. But then there was an element of precision they were going for… killing him only after it was definitely captured, and at times it felt down to the second, that made me question myself. If the reason they needed to kill Sator after they capture the nine capsules is so that he doesn’t go back and affect the past, then it seems like they have a lot more room for error.
If they failed or seemed likely to fail to capture the capsules it doesn’t matter much either way. So at the point where they are either going to fail or are so close they are going to get it, it feels like they can green light Sator’s assassination, right?
How many characters are alive in one timeline at once?
Like are their seven Sator’s running around as the movie’s timeline plays out, and like five Neils, and twenty-six Protaganists?
Clearly these guys are inverting and reverting a lot more than we thought when we first starting watching, and then have to play out the future after they go back into the past, so I am under the assumption there are a bunch of these characters interacting all the time. I don’t know if that’s right though.
Should movies be made that have to be watched twice to be understood?
As did everyone, I heard a lot of people tell me before I watched Tenet, that I would have to watch it twice. It always struck me as a bit funny. Should that ever be the narrative after leaving a movie? Or does that mean it is a bad movie?
A cynic might say that making a movie that needs multiple viewings to understand is a money grab, and maybe another explanation for Nolan’s Herculean attempt to get Tenet to play in theaters during a worldwide pandemic. But I am not feeling especially cynical today.
Instead, I wonder if a storyline that is internally consistent but borderline incomprehensible unless with extraordinary time on task is a sign of bad storytelling, or a grand vision?
And before our hackles raise while pointing to movies like The Prestige and Inception which asked for re-watches the moment they end, with twists that paint the movie with new color, I don’t see these as examples like Tenet, that normalize the confusion, as much as counterpoints against Tenet’s style. The Prestige and Inception made me want to re-watch them because I realized what the movies now meant. Tenet made me want to re-watch so I could understand what happened. And I guess I just don’t know where that leaves me.
I think that’s the gist of my overarching questions. Some I may have figured out through writing this, but others… not so much.
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