Tenet: Lots of style, but lots of confusion as well
Arts & Entertainment

Tenet: Lots of style, but lots of confusion as well

by Caleb Lubbers–If you have ever desired to be utterly confused for two and a half hours, Tenet might be the perfect film for you.

John David Washington in Tenet

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Tenet was one of the most anticipated movies of 2020.

Nolan, who has written, directed, and produced masterpieces such as Memento (2000), The Dark Knight (2005), and Inception (2010), has been nominated for five Academy Awards throughout his career. He is known for his trademark, non-linear style of telling stories, often jumping around to different plot elements. His movies have been commercially successful, generating over $2 billion in box office revenue domestically and over $4.8 billion globally.

And yes, movie theaters are once again open in Iowa. I went and watched Tenet in theaters last weekend at the AMC theater in the Southern Hills Mall. Precautions are in place, such as the seats adjacent to the ones you purchased are blocked off from anyone else buying them so you will not have to sit directly next to a stranger. After every screening, the staff disinfects all the seats to ensure a clean viewing experience for the next round of moviegoers. 

The movie tries hard to avoid being the typical science-fiction action-thriller that has plagued Hollywood over the past few years. The main character, only known as The Protagonist (very creative name!), is employed by a secret organization, known as Tenet, and is tasked with saving the world. This, however, is an extreme over-simplification of the plot; the confusing nature and non-linear structure of the film prevents any quick and accessible summation of the movie. 

From there, The Protagonist learns of “inversion,” which is a process of reversing entropy, causing objects to move backward through time. This is a unique take on an already familiar plot device in movies, and not the average time machine device that has been used in hundreds of movies.

The rest of the film deals with The Protagonist using inversion to save the fate of humanity from Andrei Sator, the film’s antagonist who also has access to inversion technology. 

John David Washington was cast as The Protagonist and gave an acceptable lead performance. It felt like his acting was a little flat and devoid of emotion, but he does a competent job for most of the film.

Robert Pattinson, who I have a tough time looking at as anyone other than Edward the vampire, does an excellent supporting character. His character shows a lot of emotion. Elizabeth Debicki does the best job out of any of the actors in the film. She shares a large amount of screen time and presents herself as a very competent actress.

Finally, Kenneth Branagh does a convincing job as Sator, coming across as very unlikeable and allowing the viewer to have someone to root against. 

Looking at the special effects Tenet employs, they are visually stunning and convincing. Everything in the film looks realistic, and without spoiling anything, there are many special effects that the average viewer may not even realize are special effects in the first place. The atmosphere the film creates via its cinematography is also remarkable. Many memorable and beautiful shots are scattered throughout the two and a half-hour run time as well. 

From the very beginning, Tenet hits the ground running and never looks back. It moves fast, often too quickly, and never quite allows the viewer to comprehend or take the time to digest what they just saw. Nolan was going for a quick-paced movie, but the result only comes off as difficult to understand to the average viewer. The intricate plot is difficult to figure out, but failing to give the viewer time to piece together what they saw compounds the problem.

Alongside the pacing problems, it’s just flat out tough to hear much of the movie as well. Background noises drown out many of the scenes in which meaningful dialogue is taking place. As previously mentioned, it was already tough enough to figure out what was going on in the movie, but adding in the fact that I couldn’t even hear the few amounts of exposition Nolan was trying to give me just made me frustrated. 

Overall, Tenet was an overly complicated film that seemed to be challenging to understand just for the sake of being difficult to understand. The cast does a fine job executing a just okay plot, and special effects were the best part of the film. Perhaps it is one of those movies that no one is supposed to understand upon their initial viewing of it. I left the theater with many unanswered questions, which I am sure a second or even third viewing would solve. It’s a competent film that anyone with two and a half hours willing to spend getting confused should consider watching.

Tenet earns two out of four stars.

October 20, 2020