What’s the story?
Memento, The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Inception, Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan has made an indecent amount of the 21st-century’s best, most interesting blockbusters. He was supposed to add to that list more than a month ago, but a certain global pandemic got in the way and Tenet’s release date was put back three times. It’s arrived now and it’s ready to bring audiences back to cinemas with a bang.
So what’s the story? Well, there are a couple of possible answers. On one level, that’s a question for career physicists. There’s some time-bending, mind-melting sci-fi going on here: someone in the future’s invented something that can ‘invert’ time, which means time is actually a two-way thing that can run forward and back. But, as an on-screen scientist tells John David Washington early on, ‘Don’t try to understand.’ There’s the briefest of pauses as Nolan allows that to sink in. We’re taking it to mean that you’re allowed to skip the sci-fi and still enjoy the film.
The easier answer is that there’s a CIA agent (Washington) who’s recruited into an even more secretive organisation and now needs to save the world. Beyond that, you need to see the film. Everything weird that starts happening to Washington is as new to him as it is to the audience. You learn (or not) as he learns.
This isn’t the first time Christopher Nolan has played with time. With the likes of Memento and Dunkirk, the British director has made a habit of non-linear narratives. With this one, sit back and trust him – because, ultimately, whether the clock’s counting up or down, the thrill is the same. And that’s the real reason for seeing Tenet. This is a pounding, maximalist thriller whose spectacular, ingenious set pieces are best enjoyed on the biggest screen with the best soundsystem. Find an IMAX if you can.