The most palindrome thing you'll see all week: Tenet

Title The most palindrome thing you'll see all week: Tenet
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Movie reviews
When December 17, 2020

Did no one explain to Christopher Nolan that the premise for Tenet is absurd?  I don't mean that as a criticism.  I'm just being descriptive.  Plenty of solid sci-fi works from an absurd premise.  And to Nolan's credit, it's an exciting premise..

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That part about the end really stood out to me, too: who were they shooting at?

I’ve relegated it to something that will hopefully make a little more sense when I view this film in reverse.

Agents of the future bad guys, I thought.

But it’s not really worth worrying about. This is a movie that’s pretty much purely about spectacle. It’s not even interested in presenting its plot, let alone clarifying or elaborating on it.

It didn’t click for me that JD is Denzel’s son until I read this. 😵

They’re Sator’s henchmen/private army. Can’t exactly be an evil Russian billionaire arms dealer without one of those.

His crippling self-seriousness is the number one reason Christopher Nolan is massively overrated.

To me, there’s a clear and earnest joy of filmmaking that shows through in his movies, almost a playfulness. So that even when the genre and subject are serious on their face, I can’t help be caught up with a sense of wonder, excitement, and fun. I can’t necessarily defend it, and I won’t try to convince anyone who doesn’t feel it. But they work for me, and I love them.

I have no problem with self-seriousness if its merited (Dark Knight, Memento, Interstellar, The Prestige, Dunkirk). My issue is when it’s attached to an absurd premise. I think Nolan is an amazing filmmaker, but I also think no one took him aside and told him his idea for Tenet is borderline ridiculous.

“Chris, you know this makes no sense, right?”

“What are you talking about? It’s air-tight. To explain it, I just need two hours of exposition, four trucks, and an airplane to fake blow-up.”

I suspect if I were to re-watch it a few times, I might appreciate it more as a puzzle movie. Scrolling through the Tenet thread is kind of illuminating.


I think he’s an amazing filmmaker who made a movie that is all chrome and no (or very little) substance in this particular case. Which is fine. I think it’s probably still overall better than Dark Knight Rises, and I’d take that over a lot of other directors’ off days. (Or, say, the entire ouevre of Michael Bay.)

Tenet’s premise is as ridiculous as that of Inception. IMO the ridiculousness didn’t get in the way because it is laid out piece by piece. The movie gradually laid its cards on the table, from the reverse firing of bullet, to freeport and then the freeway, and finally the big ass battle and the yacht. There is escalating complexity, and by the end I thought it makes sense.

But I see how it can lose some people. If you have trouble with one of the steps then subsequent exposition makes less sense. In the middle there isn’t really room for audience to breathe and bring back those who are lost, and it is 2+ hours already. If I watch it in the cinema I think it would have lost me.

Now I guess I should mention up front that I haven’t seen Tenet yet. I intend to rectify that at some point down the road, but I figure it’s worth mentioning that before I dive into the discussion head first, as is my wont.

The thing I appreciate most about Nolan’s movies is that he plays by the rules he establishes. His movies are airtight, he does not cheat. For me, they’re kind of like dreams in that, when you’re in the middle of them, experiencing them, they hang together, regardless of whether they make any sense at all half an hour later when you’re trying to discuss the movie. I’m not too bothered by absurdity in a premise; Ghostbusters doesn’t make a bit of damn sense if you try to apply any real-world logic to it at all, but I absolutely love the movie, and it hangs with its premise like a goddamned bulldog. Nobody at any point says, hey wait a minute, there are ghosts now? Where did they all come from, and why are they all in Manhattan? They just roll with it, and you get sucked along in its trail. If that’s the sort of thing that happens here, I can deal.

Wait, what? Fuck.

Acknowledging the absurdity could very easily have ruined the tension, turning it into more of a superhero movie.

What he probably should’ve done is use a premise that’s easier to buy into, such as with Inception. It’s pretty easy to trace the crazy stuff in Inception to the basic idea of a device that controls and shares dreams.

Tenet is mostly well made but feels more than any of his previous movies like he had fun visuals and twists in mind first and then retrofitted the story.

Mmm. I just finished watching Tenet, and I kind of feel like a dog that’s been shown a card trick. I’m sure I’ll appreciate how astoundingly clever everything in it is on rewatches, but there’s so little emotional anchor to everything. Unlike you, I liked John David Washington, but the problem is he’s stuck playing a character that has so little idea of what’s going on, there’s no grounding in the moment. I would have preferred if Nolan either leaned turned it into a JDW/Robert Pattinson buddy time cop joint (Pattinson is my MVP here btw), or made it more of Elizabeth Debicki’s story, since she’s the one with the actual arc.

Absolutely. Dude carried every scene he was in, and his character arc was the only meaningful intersection of character and premise. Easily my favorite part of the movie. I can’t wait to see a Pattinson Batman movie, even if it is directed by Matt “Hey, watch me butcher Let The Right One In!” Reeves.


Well, since I liked Cloverfield and his Apes movies well enough - and stayed away from an obviously misguided attempt to remake perfection - I’m actually optimistic about it. And it could always be worse - it could be directed by his previous collaborator JJ “I have absolutely nothing to say whatsoever” Abrams.

Hear, hear.

I do think Dunkirk is amazing, thought.

When it comes to self-seriousness, nobody compares to that Iñárritu guy.

Yeah, but he doesn’t really do mainstream blockbusters. The genre he works on is better suited generally for that kind of stuff, which in part is why Dunkirk works so well in Nolan’s style. Grandiose cinematography and self-seriousness does work for a military disaster film in a different way it works for a superhero film.

But, where? I spent the whole sequence going “where are the bad guys?”. There’s lots of blue team and red team running, and driving by Neil, explosions/sand tidying, occasional shooting, but seemingly not at anyone, and noone gets shot.It’s a weirdly bloodless battle, seemingly against nobody. Volkov is the only one I can actually remember seeing.

Personally I didn’t mind the emotional coldness people complain about with Nolan. But it does seem weird if you are going to make a film all about how clever your narrative device is, at the expense of humour or feeling or audience comprehension, it should actually hang together for more than a second’s thought.