Tenet: Invert Your Expectations

 By: Aaron Siebert

As movie theaters reopen all across the country, with them comes new and highly anticipated films, such as Christopher Nolan’s new epic thriller Tenet.teneT rellirht cipe wen s’naloN rehpotsirhC sa hcus ,smlif detapicitna ylhgih dna wen semoc meht htiw yrtnuoc eht ssorca lla nepoer sretaeht eivom sA

Alright I’m one sentence in and already done with that time reverse/text reverse joke. Let’s all take a sigh of relief. 

I went to see Tenet on the second day of its opening weekend, my first time seeing a new film in theaters since the start of the quarantine. Of course it wasn’t exactly how it was before the pandemic, as most cinema’s are taking precautions to keep people Covid free. I watched the film at a Cinemark theater, and I thought it would be appropriate to ask one of their employees about the conditions for all audience members: 

“Currently we’re enforcing a mask mandate around the entire building for everyone. In the theater or not. The only exception is when the audience needs to eat or drink their snacks.” The Cinemark usher says. “But we’ve also made it so every time someone reserves seats online the seats around them are invalid for purchase. So nobody sits right next to another member of the audience that isn’t seeing it with them.” 

Cinemark Tulsa and IMAX theater. My go to place for moviegoing.

So with the risk of going outside among people right now, the new regulations for everyone who buys a ticket, and the fact that you must spend your hard earned money on said ticket, there’s only one question left: Is the movie itself even worth it? 

Well if you’ll indulge me in letting myself think my opinion holds any extra weight just because I’m a 2 year filmmaking student and taking screenwriting this year (just let me have this), then I think we can find an answer. 

Story: 6/10

Before I start with my own thoughts, I think Michael Thompson, a big Nolan fan and JHS filmmaking student graduate, puts it best. 

“While this film is undeniably visually beautiful, not exactly can be said the same about the plot,” Thompson says. “It has its ups and downs in both excitement and in quality, both in places it shouldn’t have ups and downs.” 

So let’s start with the downs, because I like to finish positive. The biggest problem with both the story and the entire film really is the characters. This is a very plot driven film, the characters are made to contribute to that plot and move the scenes along. They aren’t demanded to do anything more than that, and it unfortunately makes any deeper stakes non-existent. 

While this doesn’t automatically make the film worse, it becomes a real detriment when the dialogue doesn’t even make them feel human. Each line is another exposition dump (which is often hard to hear due to the previously mentioned sound mixing). The hero and villain are each the most cookie cutter bland ends of the spectrum. The actors do a fine job playing the parts given (specifically Robert Pattinson), but there just wasn’t enough for them to work with. 

Robert Pattinson (left) and John David Washington (right) in character spouting exposition.

But with all the sacrifices it makes to move the plot along, it’s almost worth it. It’s such an interesting take on time travel and time reversal done in an incredibly gripping, if confounded, way the film calls “inverting” (and now you see the reason behind the title of this review. Dang I’m clever). The way time reverses and the way the world operates is such a visual splendor. The action is always creative and enticing, and it always feels earned after the script spends its time making everything coherent. 

If you do watch Tenet, then you’ll definitely be needing to see it again. 

Technical Aspects: 8/10

For any of you reading this who have seen a Christopher Nolan film before, it should come to no surprise to hear how marvelous this film works on a technical level. The Cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is both beautiful and immersive, working perfectly hand and hand with the set pieces Nolan creates. The film is definitely an IMAX experience (especially that mind blowing airport sequence) 

A frame from the magnificent airport scene.

Nolan’s ability to mix practical effects with CGI has never ceased to amaze me, and Tenet may be the best example in his filmography so far. The entire climax was a spectacle that pleased my eyes to no end. I also need to mention how great the editing by Jennifer Lame was, even if it goes without saying. In both the fast action and expository dialogue she always seemed to make the right cut at the right time. 

The sound design of this film is a mixed bag to say the least. The sounds themselves were great, and edited into the picture nicely, but the main problem is the sound mixing. The background audio was often far too loud and acted as white noise, distorting the dialogue that the audience needs to hear to understand the events. This has been a consistent problem in Christopher Nolan’s career that we can only wish to improve, for our ears sake. 

On a more positive note regarding what we hear; the musical score by Ludwig Göransson fit the story perfectly and was used at the best possible moments. Some were weary about Göransson being the composer over Nolan’s usual choice, Hans Zimmer. So it’s nice to know that he more than proved himself on this feature. 

Conclusion: 7/10 Overall

As you can already tell from everything you just read, I have some mixed thoughts on the movie. But I do want it to be known that I am still mostly positive in my feelings. It was great to see Nolan double down on being equally thrilling and risky, but the problem with taking risks is that sometimes they don’t pay off. 

At the end of the day the film wants to make you think, but it doesn’t really have much on it’s own mind besides blowing yours. There’s a difference between something that makes you think and something that makes you feel, and I don’t believe Tenet will reach the latter after making you do the former. 

So, is a mostly positive and thrilling film worth leaving your house to see right now? I’d say so, but it’s not my decision. Still, I want to recommend Tenet to anyone interested, and for people who have already seen this time reversal film: rewind it. 

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