Released amidst the pandemic, the eagerly anticipated science fiction epic Tenet, spurred polarizing discussions over its merit, with much of the criticism being reserved for its confusing storyline – a seemingly unprecedented notion for a director normally used to unanimous applause for his path-breaking narratives. Nevertheless, its advocates outnumbered its critics. Adding to this simmering debate, DU Beat presents its own review of Tenet.
“Don’t try to understand it, feel it.” As our bewildered (and unnamed) Protagonist is told so, while being subjected to a demonstration of an inverted bullet which pulls back into a gun’s empty magazine, the viewer might smirk at the dialogue’s allegorical compatibility with Christopher Nolan’s “habit” of weaving in complex subject matter, often involving scientific connotations, within his vigorous storylines. However, as the film proceeds and spirals into a deep pit of delineations, it almost begins to seem that the dialogue has been added to the screenplay for the viewer’s benefit, rather than the Protagonist’s.
Opening with a booming soundtrack and an electrifying extended action sequence at an opera house in Ukraine, the film commands your attention from the very first second, and despite frequent smatterings of scientific mumbo-jumbo as well as stretched expositions of the same by the characters (in an attempt to tone down the convolution), it manages to hold your concentrated gaze till the credits roll to the hypnotic tune of Travis Scott’s “The Plan.”
Surprisingly, the essence of the plot remains simple – the Protagonist is recruited by a mysterious organization (named Tenet) to trace the origins of several weapon pieces which happen to have an inverted entropy (that is, they move backwards in time, like the aforementioned bullet) and he manages to locate it to a Russian oligarch, who possesses machines which can invert the entropy of people and individual objects, and as you would have already guessed, plans to end the world.
What makes it complicated then? Broadly, the addition of hardcore scientific elements (theoretical physics, to be specific) and the director’s ambitious (and successful) attempt to portray the sequences of time manipulation as accurately as possible. Combined with the swift pace of the film, the meticulous detailing in every frame and scene become a tad too hard to follow, and yes, despite the attempts made to moderate it for the average viewer, Tenet is a production which requires multiple viewings to be comprehensively absorbed.
As has been the case with Nolan’s recent releases, and one probably unintended by him, the technical brilliance of Tenet tends to overpower the characters and their motives, and the motive of the story in general. In the case of Tenet, its technicals, which do justice to the humongous $200 million that the film utilised, happen to be the film’s tour de force. From impeccably coloured frames to perfectly choreographed action sequences to opulent production designs to breathtaking cinematography to a blistering sound arrangement, the film is an auditory and visual assault, albeit a pleasant one, on the viewer’s senses.
Despite being cast as characters in a narrative which only allows a limited interplay of human emotions, the actors manage to enhance the story’s output and prevent the influence of artificial elements from becoming more overwhelming than what’s acceptable. As the Protagonist, John David Washington, fresh from the success of BlacKkKlansman, turns in a convincing performance in a role which offers largely uni-dimensional facets of the character despite commanding a considerable amount of screen time.
The supporting cast, led by an invigorating Robert Pattinson as well as Bollywood’s own Dimple Kapadia, furnish stellar performances. Though on a side note, Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the film’s Russian antagonist – Andrei Sator – seems slightly less compelling as compared to his past acting performances (with all due respect to his legendary acting prowess). Apart from that, the Stan Lee of Nolan’s cinematic universe – Michael Caine – comes up with a refreshing (and quintessentially British) cameo.
Tenet lacks moments of emotions and the ones which do manage to make the final cut seem half-hearted or even illogical at one point. For example, Andrei Sator’s desire to end the world due to his own imminent cancer-induced death, which forms one of the focal points of the narrative, is simply, and very conveniently attributed to his “If I can’t have it, no one else can” approach to life. A deeper and more poignant character history would have hit home harder. Nonetheless, with its undeniable magnificence, the film is a spectacular cinematic experience, and its strengths comprehensively overpower its weaknesses.
On a concluding note, Tenet is a resplendent jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces missing and stops short of being considered a contemporary classic on a unanimous scale (it does have my vote!). However, similar to the fate of Interstellar, future evaluations shall probably be kinder.
Watch the trailer here.
Featured Image Credits: Indiewire