Tenet is dumb, it is trying to fool you into thinking it’s smart.
Tenet is big-budget nonsense.
How else do I put it? Tenet is a dumb film that wants you to think it’s smart.
Have you encountered someone who uses a lot of big words? Have you ever asked them what those words mean and they struggle? This person has clearly relied on people accepting everything they say. People want to ask, but they want to avoid people thinking they’re dumb so they stay silent. I’ve encountered these people and to be completely honest, I’ve been that person too. There have been times when I have thought if I use big enough words, people will assume I know what I’m on about. This is Tenet. Big words, nothing to say.
This post contains spoilers. If you’re still waiting to see the film and want to experience the story for yourself, stop reading.
First, let me point out what I liked.
Tenet -the good
The soundtrack is good. Has got a synth-wave vibe which is cool. Reminded me of HEALTH’s soundtrack for Max Payne 3.
I like Robert Pattinson. Pattinson continues to be the most interesting actor working at the moment. If you are yet to see Good Time check it out.
I liked the Protagonists suits. He wears a maroon one at one point, and I was like, damn that is a fine suit.
The car chase was diverting. It felt like it was done better by Nolan when he had the truck chase in The Dark Knight.
It looks good. Does this even count as a good point? For the budget, of course, it better look good.
Tenet -the dumb
Nolan just wanted to have backwards fights and car chases
Can you and I agree that Nolan wanted to do backwards fights and backwards car chases? There is nothing wrong with this but let us not lie to ourselves and say it’s deep. It’s a cool technical look, but that’s all it is and by extension, the film too. Tenet is a big-budget tech demo. You can feel that Nolan came up with the image of a man fighting himself, one going forward the other in reverse. With that image in mind, he built the film around it, whether it made sense or not. At least that what it feels like.
The protagonist is called Protagonist
Do I need to go on? He runs around saying “I’m the protagonist”. Sometimes an unnamed hero can work. However, when there is so little information to latch onto, it makes relating to the lead a challenge.
The hero is passive for the first half of the film. There is nothing wrong with a passive hero, sometimes it can work (Fight Club). Here, however, it feels like he is getting ordered about the place. This might have something to do with the whole free will/is time deterministic theme. The spy genre is the wrong vehicle to explore these ideas. It is more satisfying if a hero can work out something for themselves rather than being told what to do. It’s the equivalent of someone doing the work for you. Yes, it makes things easier, but when things come easily, you value them less. There’s a chance Nolan is being cute here seeing as Protagonist from the future is pulling strings.
I have a lot of time for Kenneth Brannagh. He’s a decent director, he’s Sam Rami for people who read the Sunday Times. His villain character is weak. You are reminded how good Heath Ledger is as the Joker when you watch this. Nolan can do villains, but Kenneth has nothing to work with. Kenneth doesn’t make his appearance until the halfway point. Once we’re introduced to Brannagh, he gives a convoluted speech about cut throats and testicles. In short, as bad guys go, he’s quite pleasant. It would help if we saw him do something terrible at the start of the film. You’re told he was behind the Opera attack, but it would be better if we saw more clearly he was. You know, show instead of telling.
“Don’t think about it,” “Go to sleep”
These are some of my favourite bits of dialogue. This is the biggest hint to the audience that you should stop questioning the logic and just go with the flow. The scientist at the start tells Protagonist to stop questioning the backwards motion. This reminded of a scene from Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me. In the scene, Basil Exposition turns to the camera and tells you not to worry about the time travel. There’s an even better part later on when Protagonist has many questions to ask. My girlfriend and I laughed when Robert Pattinson kept telling Protagonist to go to sleep and stop asking questions.
Filled with jargon and terminology, which makes you feel unintelligent but is actually dumb.
“Temporal pincer movement” It feels like it should make sense. It’s meaningless. The film is filled with jargon that makes you feel dumb. There are some great lines like “You mean reverse chronology. Like Feynman and Wheeler’s notion that a positron is an electron moving backwards in time?” Like I know those are words, but what do they mean? My own belief, it’s gobbledygook—well-researched gobbledygook but gobbledygook all the same.
When the “characters” are free from expositing gobbledygook, they are delivering hamfisted dialogue. Do you remember in Dark Knight during the truck chase the irritating SWAT member: “Is that a bazooka?” “I didn’t sign up for this”. Well, Tenet is light on the zingers but the few that there are “I ordered my hot sauce half an hour ago” will make you groan.
The boat race scene
The boat race scene feels like an admission from Nolan that he knows the scene is boring. It serves no real purpose aside from to deliver more exposition. In True Romance, there is a scene where the heroes have to negotiate a drug deal. The scene, for no other reason, takes place on a rollercoaster. It’s as if the director knows they have a boring scene. What do they do? They artificially spruce up the scene. They do that by having it take place somewhere “interesting”. Keep an eye out for scenes like this in films, it is hard to unsee. Also, a sign a director thinks the scene is boring: having the camera doing constant 360s of the actors.
Conclusion : noisulcnoc
There have been reports that some people had difficulty hearing the dialogue. I would be one of them if I was invested in the story. Tenet is one of Nolan’s most soulless films yet. It’s hard to see what his personal connection is to the material.
I think Interstellar is a bad film. Even still, Interstellar feels more personal than Tenet. A man goes away for long periods and misses his kids growing up, you can see Nolan in there. Tenet could have been made by anyone, and yet it could only be made by Nolan. If you feel that’s a nonsensical sentence what if I told you it was a palindrome.
Nolan has done great work. I will do glowing write-ups on Insomnia, The Prestige and Dunkirk next time I watch. Inception had impressive visuals. You were more invested in the story than the technique. Tenet is all technique, no soul.
If you are wondering why has it been getting such great reviews here’s the thing. Critics are sheep. None of them wants to speak the truth. No critic wants to bad mouth what might be a classic years down the line. Nolan is the bourgeoise Michael Bay, and none of them wants to admit the emperor has no clothes. Am I mixing my metaphors? Probably.
On a more sombre note, Tenet feels like then end of an era for me. This was cinema’s big comeback after the pandemic. I was hoping for a triumphant return. I feel let down. As I know it, cinema is gone.
The words of the Bard feel appropriate. Shakespeare was talking about Tenet when he wrote: It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
Side note: Christopher Nolan is a smart man, he is not an idiot. I just wish he would stick to adapting other people’s work.
If you liked Tenet you might want to:
Check out a film called Primer a super low budget version on a similar subject in 79 minutes. Zero car chases. I have warned you.
Hope you liked this post.
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If you are would you mind signing up to my email because this feels like the end of a beautiful friendship.
Thank you again and have a great day,