Time-inversion, spies, and a global pandemic
Christopher Nolan wants you to die.
For the better part of four months, that has been the running headline. Both Warner Brothers and the esteemed auteur himself have an undesirable desire to sacrifice today’s COVID-induced audience to the depths of current cinematic treachery: the movie theaters.
Nolan, for the past few months, has spoken at length about his intentions regarding Tenet’s release. After Warner Brothers argued in favor of a furthered delay, Chris Nolan refused to give up his Summer 2020 slot. He thought of Tenet to be the film that would reopen the floodgates and would allow moviegoers back into their sacred holy ground.
Flash forward to September of 2020, and the film is finally being released stateside. After following an international debut just a week before, the United States will be showing the controversial film wherever cinemas are open. This decision has been met with a nearly unheard of amount of controversy. Many individuals are arguing against the release strategy, calling for the film’s release on streaming or PVOD. I mean, if the theaters aren’t 100% safe, why open them at all?
While I can certainly see both sides of the argument, and truly believe there is not a simple solution, I can begin to understand (artistically) where Nolan’s mind is at.
In Tenet, John David Washington’s ‘The Protagonist’, and Robert Pattinson’s ‘Neil’ embark on a quest that will unfold in more than one layer of time. To stop a Russian Oligarch (played brilliantly by the Kenneth Branaugh) from achieving nuclear catastrophe, they must travel across the planet, and through more that one dimension of time, to hopefully save their future.
Tenet is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. Being shot nearly entirely on an IMAX format, the filmmaker drenches the screen in an almost overwhelming dosage of immersion. Each shot pours onto the viewer like molasses, enveloping you into its world of international espionage. The ambition radiates onto the viewer, demanding your attention and your brain cells.
For as inspiring and mesmerizing as the movie may be, it is equally confusing and convoluted. Nolan puts his trust in the audience, which in turn, requires you to think as if you were putting pen to paper. He treats the viewer as if they were the storyteller, asking you to think ahead of each character, and to listen carefully to each line, almost as if they were written in binary.
The choice to barely provide the audience with any hand-holding has proved itself to be quite controversial. A significant percentage of the film’s negative reviews are derived from a singular argument: Christopher Nolan’s over-complicated story-structure is at a detriment to any audience enjoyment. Tenet barely lets the audience breathe, and as a result, loses them in the dust. All of these are valid arguments, however, from my perspective, they are also inherently wrong.
Tenet is a puzzle composed of a vast series of moving images. Each frame is meant to help justify the prior, which in turn, set’s up its successor. Yet, if you miss even a moment of the story, you are nearly forgotten about. You’re treated as an attachment, rather than an observer. An ally rather than a bystander. An extension rather than a viewer. Nolan puts you at the forefront of the action, which in turn, puts you at the forefront of the story.
Tenet is, without a shadow of a doubt, a complicated film. It’s one that requires repeated viewings, multiple dissections, and in-depth examinations. The movie will make you think, and more than likely will leave you with some sort of thought paralysis upon exiting the theater. But, that’s all by design. Nolan has engineered the movie to be convoluted and to be confusing. It’s challenging us, not only to solve the mystery, but to solve the puzzle.
Tenet is a film that deserves to be seen on the largest screen possible. It’s engineered to facilitate an experience to the audience, one that is both unforgettable and entirely distinct. Its effect would be lost on a television screen. You would lose that sense of urgency, the enchantment into the picture. Nolan knows this and exercises his beliefs throughout the film’s entire run-time. Tenet is a film you need to participate in, and part of the engagement is total immersion.
Christopher Nolan doesn’t want us to die, he wants us to see the film through his eyes and the lens of the silver screen. Whether you feel up to the climb is a personal choice, and there is no shame in either decision. However, if you do decide to embark on the ascent, I can promise you, the summit is just as worth it as you were hoping for.