LONDON – If you want one solitary piece of advice going in to see Christopher Nolan’s latest time-obsessed blockbuster Tenet, then let it come from the man himself. Having written the screenplay, there is a line uttered by Clémence Poésy as she attempts to unravel this convoluted plot to the film’s central character, played by John David Washington. “You don’t have to understand it,” she says, “You just need to feel it.”
That is the long and the short of this movie. It’s Chris Nolan squared, it’s as though he sat down one day and thought, how can I make Tenet more Chris Nolany than anything else I’ve made before? But for us, and for millions worldwide, this is by no means a criticism, far from it. This is what we wanted to see, and at a time when the cinema-going experience has been scrutinised and threatened more so than it ever has before due to the Covid pandemic, the art-form needs this release. A film you simply have to see on the big screen. A film you can truly feel.
We won’t even attempt to give you a plot synopsis for this complex, time-bending, mind-boggling tale, but let’s just say the world needs saving, and ‘The Protagonist’ (Washington – who is bringing back the polo shirt in emphatic fashion) and Neil (Robert Pattinson), are here to save it. Making up a strong ensemble that also features another striking turn by Elizabeth Debicki, and Sir Kenneth Branagh yet again showing off just how good he is at the Russian accent, as the leading antagonist Andrei Sator, we enter into a tale that doesn’t just ignore the rules of conventional storytelling, it actively operates in spite of them.
So while the narrative in Tenet itself may pose more questions than it provides answers, in a similar vein to the likes of Inception, while you may feel somewhat overwhelmed at times, what cannot be denied is the immersive and indelible experience of watching the film. Some of the action set-pieces are just breathtaking, and unlike anything else we’ve seen before. The stirring Ludwig Goransson score dictates the pace, which is unrelenting, as a film that offers so little respite. The dialogue flows incredibly well too, maintaining the pace of the story, and while it’s so quick and in turn inauthentic, it enhances the cinematic tonality. Nolan knows we’ve already had to suspend our disbelief, and so he uses up all the licence he has to take us on this adventure with him.
Tenet, and much like Nolan’s other work, does lack just a semblance of comedic relief however, and while there’s no obligation to lighten things up (the end of the world is nigh, after all) – in blockbusters of this nature, you often just need these brief moments to breathe, to just cut through the intensity and tension at hand. Yet this is a dour, humourless affair. Perhaps this could’ve been rectified had they let Branagh keep his moustache from Murder on the Orient Express.
Sometimes it’s hard not to just feel like Nolan is intellectually superior to us, and part of the enjoyment of watching his films comes in the admiration for what he’s been able to craft and construct in front of our very eyes. You’re left in awe, and to be honest, sometimes wondering if a mind like his is wasted in cinema. Shouldn’t he be out there inventing time travel? Or maybe he already has. But what he always manages to do as a director is ensure you remain gripped. To make a film in Tenet that can be so challenging to comprehend or make sense of, and yet just keep the viewer onside throughout is no mean feat. This really is just Christopher Nolan’s world, and we’re just living in it. I think? Are we even real?