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Tenet: Does the Excitement Match the Hype?

by Alex Hamilton

Besides reimagining Batman, Christopher Nolan (the director of Tenet) is best known for creating stories that balance mind-bending ideas with artful illustration of the human condition. In Tenet, he seems to see humans as pawns for illustrating the concept of inverting entropy, the inspiration for the film. The film is satisfying in that it demands the viewer use some amounts of brain power to understand it. However, the type of thought needed to understand Tenet is more robotic than a film should ever require. Yes, Tenet is superb, as stereotypical action movies go, but it fails to integrate human emotions and behavior with the overarching concept of inverting entropy.

The film jumps into action with an opening opera heist. And if you think such a degree of intensity can’t be sustained, you’d be wrong. Tenet is a non-stop bullet train of action: zooming down the tracks, then stopping and reversing in full speed. Tenet is thrilling, but its crazy pace eventually takes a toll on the viewer. This can most clearly be seen when the protagonist seeks intel from an Indian gun lord), a scene which starts on a boat and—in mid-conversation—jumps to a busy inner city. There is no transition, no eloquence in the illustration of vital information. It seems as if Christopher Nolan saw these scenes as nothing more than bullet points of information explaining the inversion of entropy. Scenes that could have set tones or emphasized the emotions of Tenet’s characters was scrapped to fit the movie in a 2-hour-and-30-minute time cap. Most film critics agree that editing is the second-most important or most important job on a movie set. The fact that there was a lack of attention in such an imperative area of film production further hints to the idea that Tenet’s creators put too much focus on the concept. The editor, much like the audience, seems to have been more focused on piecing together the overly complicated plot than anything else in the movie.

However, all of this focus on the concept did make for a very creative action movie. Instead of sending its characters running around the world, racing against time, as most action movies do, Tenet revisits all of its main action sequences—just in a new, inverted perspective. What seemed to be closed chapters in the story became the facilitators of the most intriguing ideas and plot points of the movie. The 14th is the first day of the movie and also the last, the beginning of a friendship for the protagonist and the end of one for Neil; the woman Kat thought was a mistress turned out to be her future self. Everything, in a thrilling, satisfying way, comes full-circle. The fight between the Protagonist and himself is not one that will be soon forgotten. Simply put, Tenet is a very smart movie, and to that I tip my hat.

Despite the movie’s accomplishments, though, another area that was significantly lacking was its character development. Robert Patterson’s character, Neil, was a part of one of the biggest plot reveals of the movie—arguably what was meant to be a sort of emotional climax. As Neil walks to his death, we find out that this is both the beginning and end of a lifelong friendship. In a moment like this one would expect to be overwhelmed with joy and sadness, but sadly, the reaction I heard in theaters was “That was pretty cool,” or “Wow, did not see that coming.” This is the movie's emotional climax! Simply “That was pretty cool?” Clearly, audiences did not feel a deep-enough connection with Neil to despair at his loss. In addition, a vast majority of the main character’s dialogue only served to deepen the concept, not the characters themselves. I only recall a few moments where dialogue was used both to further the concept and to develop the characters. It was either concept or characters—and Nolan decided on the former. Again, blame for lack of character development can be linked to the movie’s editing, for it felt as if the characters were just part of the grammatical formatting in the movie’s bulleted presentation. The problem is that this movie does not rely on its characters but revolves around the concept alone, instead of a happy marriage between the two. If you find yourself wondering why you did not have a moving response to Neil and the Protagonist’s final moments, then just ask yourself, “How did I go this whole movie without realizing the main character did not have a name?”

Yes, Christopher Nolan reached an impressive level of depth in this movie, but his depth is in all the wrong places. The greatest movies are great because of their ability to move the soul; to reach a depth of understanding of the human condition that cannot be put in words. I think that, because it fails to do that, Tenet is no more than just high-calibre entertainment. The potential for this movie was there—and if anyone could have accomplished the feat of integrating this concept with humanistic story telling, it would be Christopher Nolan. However, Nolan did not succeed. I give Tenet a 5.5 out 10.

Rating Scale

10: Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey

9: No Country for Old Men, Moonlight, Silence

8: Mad Max, La La Land, JoJo Rabbit

7: Braveheart, Interstellar, Prisoners

6: Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows pt 2, As Good As It Gets, Palm Springs

5: The Bucket List, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible: Fallout

4: The Bee Movie, The Mummy, A Good Day to Die Hard

3: Ready Player One, Paper Towns, She’s the Man

2: Divergent: Insurgent, The Bounty Hunter, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

1: ALL ADAM SANDLER MOVIES except Uncut Gems and The Meyerowitz Stories.


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