Tenet: Christopher Nolan’s cerebral sci-fi leaves audiences scratching their heads
by TOM CRAMP
In what was supposed to be the blockbuster that allowed our minds to leave a troubling reality, Christopher Nolan’s new time travel thriller made me regret leaving my house. It was intended to astonish viewers with another one of Nolan’s trademark cinematic brain teasers, but its convoluted plot and wearisome dialogue left me wondering what on earth just happened. Ironically, Tenet’s timing was off too, as the ongoing pandemic devoured any hope of a reinvigorated box office rush.
The film follows the journey of the ‘Protagonist’ (John David Washington) as he embarks on a highly classified mission through time to prevent future global annihilation instigated by a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh). In theory this sounds amazing, but the reality had my head spinning faster than Matt Hancock can hand out PPE contracts.
The ‘inversion’ time-travel arc on which the film hinges plays fast and loose with ideas like logic, reason and general common sense. During the Protagonist’s brief on inversion, an ‘expert’ even tells him, “don’t try and understand it.” In fairness, this is a science fiction film, but the flimsy explanation combined with pacey, confusing dialogue meant that I was constantly playing catch up with myself - each scene would only sort ofmake sense about ten minutes later.
The Protagonist is aided in his quest by Neil (Robert Pattinson), whose sharp dress sense and collected demeanour added an elegance we’ve come to expect from a Nolan flick. His performance was a highlight. High-octane scenes with cars going in opposite directions in time were also good fun, but they act as mere stopgaps between the intentionally vague conversations that form the bulk of the movie.
At a time where the world desperately needed some action-packed escapism, they were met with an almost impenetrable fortress of pseudo-science. Tenet is, in my opinion, a blemish on the otherwise pretty flawless record of Christopher Nolan. It felt like he’d tested the waters of how layered he could go with Inception and Interstellar and found a truly winning formula, only to go way overboard this time. For his next trick, I hope Nolan can conjure up something a little easier to follow, if only to give my furrowed brow some respite.