08 September 2020


“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

That advice, part of a briefing given to a CIA agent known only as the Protagonist, is well worth following. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is—at least, on first viewing—very confusing indeed, and the sometimes inaudible expository dialogue adds to the confusion. Nolan is rightly praised for making smart blockbusters requiring audience concentration, and I’m sure that Tenet’s plot is watertight on paper (unlike, for example, The Big Sleep), but in this case the narrative feels too convoluted.

As in Nolan’s greatest films, Memento and Inception, time itself is a key element in Tenet’s non-linear plot. The central conceit here is ‘inversion’, a single-word concept like ‘inception’, and a motif from Memento’s opening sequence—a gun being fired in reverse—reappears in Tenet. (The ending borrows a time-travel plot device from The Terminator and a classic quote from Casablanca.)

Tenet is a James Bond movie in all but name, with sharp suits, exotic locations, and a cartoonish villain (“How would you like to die?”). The film features a series of inconsequential MacGuffins, including a nine-part algorithm with unfortunate echoes of the infinity stones from The Avengers. As always, Nolan uses practical special effects, though Tenet lacks the spectacle of Inception or Dunkirk: yes, he bought a 747, but the real plane crashes into a fake building.

Tenet (like several of Nolan’s previous films) was partially shot with IMAX cameras. It’s on theatrical release in multiple formats: IMAX 70mm and IMAX digital laser screenings are projected in the full 1.43:1 IMAX ratio, while IMAX xenon digital screenings are framed at 1.9:1. Non-IMAX 70mm and digital prints are 2.2:1, and 35mm prints are in the standard 2.39:1 widescreen format. The Paragon Cineplex IMAX cinema showed Tenet in IMAX 70mm for the first two days of its release, though the projector broke on the third day (29th August), and subsequent screenings have been digital.

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