Tenet (2020)

A cerebral evolution of the spy-thriller from the Da Vincian-imagination of Nolan, Tenet’s a time-distortion of remarkable metaphysical aspiration – w/ epic scale, complexity, stylized 007-fix, career JDW performance, chef d’oeuvre Göransson score, & aciculate repartée. 9/10

Plot Synopsis: A secret agent is given a single word as his weapon and sent to prevent the onset of World War III. He must travel through time and bend the laws of nature in order to be successful in his mission.

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

Welcome To The Afterlife

From Space to Dream-Heists To WWII To Gotham City, One Of The Greatest Minds Of Modern Direction Returns To Britain & 007

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

One of the most prolific and celebrated directors of the 21st-century, Christopher Nolan has built one of the most epic and diverse filmographies of modern cinematic history. From multi-dimensional space epics to dream-heists to World War II-evacuations to nihilistic authoritarian chaos in Gotham City, the 50-year old British magnate has managed to score 34+ Oscar-nominations in probably the most diverse collection of genre-pieces by one moviemaker. The childhood of Nolan saw one franchise evoke inspiration and cinematic curiosity in the night-theaters he spent his single-digit ages in London: 007. Nearly half a century later, he’s finally crafted his swan-song tribute to the type of film that meant so much to him growing up – with a Nolanesque psychotomimetic corkscrew, of course. A cerebral evolution of the spy-thriller from the Da Vincian-imagination of Nolan, TENET is a time-distortion of remarkable metaphysical aspiration – with epic scale, complexity, stylized 007 homages, proficient JDW career performance, chef d’oeuvre Zimmer-Göransson score, & aciculate repartée.

The CLC Tenet Explanation

A Parable Of Climate Exposition, A Radical Group From The Future Funds A WW3 Time-Bomb Collected By Algorithm Pieces Across Eras To Kill Today & Save Tomorrow

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

First, since it will no-question be a film that confuses the vast majority of the general population: CLC’s Official Explanation Of The Meaning Of Tenet. Though it may not ostensibly look like it: Tenet is really a parable of climate exposition and greed. The mad-dash scramble of its events is to retrieve nine mechanized parts of an algorithm created by a future scientist who was able to figure out how to reverse time and entropy. Fear of the Manhattan Project-level weaponization and genocidal-implications of her discovery, the future-Oppenheimer carefully-stashes the separated pieces of the algorithm in the most impregnable mystery-places throughout history – until a faction of radicals from the future start an all-out excavation to find it and bring about WW3. The plan is headed by Russian oligarch/billionaire Andrei Sator: a domestically-abusive supervillain given limitless funds, inversion-technology, power, and luxury in return for selling his and his world’s soul. The final two pieces of the algorithm are what Sator’s after across the events of Tenet: one in the Kyiv opera-house at the beginning and another in the Tallinn car-chase, securing them and planning to end it all with his own cancer-stricken life at his happiest moment: a yacht-sunset wherein his wife shared love. The revelation he describes before doing so is that future-radicals paid him to kill our world and past because mankind’s decimation of resources/climate has ruined their world – they have future-technology able to shield them from the grandfather-paradox of temporalization [if you kill your grandfather, you’ll never be born to commit the act] and start a new world themselves.

A Classic Spy Movie; Avant-Garde-ized

Clearly Evocative & Stylized By 007, Tenet Packs All The Cars, Silencers, Codewords, Govt Ops, Secret-Agents, Aciculate Repartée

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

The plan is stopped by a mystery-presence with a red-trinket in his backpack who sacrifices himself, the same one who saves The Protagonist at Kiev at the beginning of the film – revealed in the finale to be Neil all along, recruited by his best-friend The Protagonist in the future whom masterminded the whole-plan as they once-again hide the algorithm parts across time. Now that’s a f*cking plot and real cinematic ambition if I’ve ever seen it. For all of the intellectualization and lust for reinvention/innovation of the cinematic medium, Tenet is a stylish and exciting-to-watch piece of modern blockbuster fare too. The 007 influences are palpable: fancy cars, silencer-pistols, stylistic-elegance, exotic locales from Mumbai to The U.K. to Amalfi Coast, weapons-grade plutonium 241, governmental operations, secret-codes, egocentrism, and aciculate repartée. Nolan said in an interview the Bond film that had the biggest impact on his childhood movies was Roger Moore’s 1977 ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, and the parallel-resonance is clear to see: nuclear-warfare, soviet-teamups, megalomaniac-shipping magnates, and limitless bold escapism empowering freedom-of-imagination. The film is basically a love-letter panegyric to the 007 sagas of yesteryears – far-more refined and elevated to never-before-seen cinematic heights by way of Nolan’s insatiable appetite to take comparatively-bland/primitive genres of formulaic blockbuster moviemaking and evolve them to reimagination-entirely.

The Metaphysical Complex: New Cold War

One Of The Boldest & Most Ambitious Films Of The 21st-Century, Tenet Reverses Chronology To Throw The Physical Laws Of Nature Into Question – w. Science-Accuracy

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

Easily the biggest show-stopper, of course, in Tenet is its time-distortion. Nolan is not one to play by the rules or preconceived notions of cinematic experience – but Tenet is a complete mind-f*** beyond the metaphysical and physical aspirations of his filmography and my expectations. The inversion of entropy, reversal of chronology, and physical extrapolation of the movement of objects throughout the temporal fabrics of the universe are all events and phenomenological minutiae being studied at PhD-depth in major academic settings: as I can personally-verify being a Harvard and Emory-graduate with a Bachelor of Science having also gone to Medical School and studied physics at high academic levels. Tenet cinematizes though magnificently-complex and ambitious debates/discussions ravaging academia – with striking scientific-accuracy beyond which it even needed to celebratize such academia on the biggest world-stage for millions. The Feynman-Wheeler notion of a positron being a backwards-moving electron, entropic-reversals of free-energy and their effects on morphology/elements like fire being turned to ice, parallel worlds-theory knowing the relationship between consciousness and multiple realities, and inverse-radiation triggered by nuclear-fission are all scientifically-complex dissertation postulates it tackles – while also doing the same philosophically with paradoxes of time like the grandfather/watch, experience of alternative parties in you picking up the bullet but from the bullet’s POV it was caught, and cause-vs.-effect reversals in juxtaposition with action. The overall package is one that impossibly and impressively-manages to satisfy scientific minds ready to heavily-scrutinize its authenticity, as well as non-initiated ones with multiple-reassurances of ‘not trying to understand it, but feeling it’ and tangible explanation in layman-terminology throughout.

The Big, Epic Action

The Multi-Reflexive Movement Of Time Creates A Breathtaking Canvas Of Limitless Possibilities: A 21st-Century Experience

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

As with its complexity of plot-structure/events juxtaposed with stylish 007 spy-homages, the evisceration of its temporal effects on the viewer’s mental stamina is balanced by breathtaking action that makes provocative use of the project’s limitless possibilities. From the opening scene [one of the best scenes in the history of the spy-genre and a new structural feature for Nolan films usually not pace-heavy that early mere seconds into the movie], the visceral pulsation of the Tenet’s action grips you. Indeed, it’s a damn cinematic experience you have to see for yourself seeing a fight scene in reverse or forwards and backwards sequentially or even simultaneously on-screen. Our favorite scene of the movie, though, action-wise is the ascension up the building: combining wits, outside-the-box thinking, pacing, and expert choreography/scene-constructions to keep your pulse high for ~most of the movie experience. The sheer authenticity of work-ethic and imagination cuts even into the stuntwork: Nolan bought and crashed a real Boeing 747 plane for the Rotas-entrance and refused any green-screen work for pure practicality of effects – something he’s known for crafting his films so painstakingly [near anal-retentively], he planted an entire field of corn for one shot of Interstellar driving through it. The cinematography by Hoyt van Hoytema to capture this entropy-reversal action is cutting-edge and artfully paints [with $205,000,000+ of top-pedigree CGI-innovation: one of Nolan’s most expensive projects ever] the concept with breathtaking poise for a visually-arresting result across its exotic locales. The score echoes the avant-garde zeal and insatiable lust for innovation in what’s easily the film’s greatest achievement outside of ideological complexity.

The Cinematography & Score

A Cutting-Edge Hoytema Exhibit & Zimmer-Göransson Score That Evolves & Reinvents The Spy Genre – Pulsating Cyber-Futurism

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

From the opening seconds of Tenet, what steals the show is the score: a striking achievement I came in pessimistic about due to the absence of a legendary composer whose work has elevated Nolan’s films from the beginning: Hans Zimmer. The titan of film scoring with over 150+ projects receiving multiple Grammy’s, BAFTA’s, Academy Awards, Golden Globes, & every other award-recognition in the cinematic industry, the legacy of Zimmer is written in stone amongst the greatest to ever orchestrate a movie. The pioneer of merging electronic music production with classical orchestration on the biggest world-stage possible, it was none more than his symbiolotic mutualism and relationship with Nolan’s films that elevated him to the iconographical stardom he enjoys today [he played at Coachella, for pete’s sake] – with innovation so cogent, the character theme of TDK’s Joker is one singular violin note animalistically-warped and stretched out so long, it evokes hatred, fear, tension, and discomfort before the villain even arrives on-screen. The double-edged sword of that fame was: he was contractually-busy for Tenet, but Nolan found a fine substitute that pays homage to the style/innovation of Zimmer – while adding flair his own. Göransson reverberates the synth-heavy electronic production, pulsing 808 futurism, machination, and epic-scale feel of Zimmer’s work while pushing the envelope with a magnificent diversification of instruments/sounds from gyrational violins to brass-drops to fuzz-leads to vuvuzelas to autotune vocals to nimbly-arpeggiated woodwinds. The tonicism is dark, mysterious, and forlorn to work thematically too: one of, if not the best score of 2020.

A Cinematic Sator-Square

The Ancient Cryptological Palindrome Of Europe Is Key To Unlocking The Da Vinci-Codex Of TENET: Faith & Mechanization

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

The key to unlocking and fully-appreciating the brilliance of Tenet can be found in an archeological find of ancient cryptological palindromes across European civilizational antiquities: The Sator Square. The earliest origins being in Pompeii and found throughout historical, religious, and magical contexts, TSS is a word-square containing a five-word latin palindrome: Rotas, Opera, Tenet, Arepo, & Sator. Viewing of Tenet should set off alarm-bells already upon mention of those five words – each of them is a critical part of the film of Tenet interrelated. Rotas is the security company protecting the freeport of the film’s big-bad Andrei Sator, who is highly-possessive and jealous of his wife’s accusatory-betrayal of him romantically with a Spanish forged art-dealer named Arepo for blackmail-fodder and chases the nine archetype fragments of Tenet to find one in an Opera house in Kiev. Wow. The interconnectivity of the plot and events in this context reverberate the four-directional palindrome of The Sator Square – which, if that wasn’t impressive and inspired enough for Da Vincian-level Kubrick-esque hidden meaning, can be extrapolated to find another thematically-resonant interpretation. The palindromic structure of the square can also be rearranged as a cross flanked by 2 a’s and o’s with the words Pater Noster on the bidirectional beams. This translates latin-wise to ‘Our Father’ and is the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer critical to the foundation of Christianity – and the 2 a’s and o’s the alpha-omega again God-referential. These are thematically-resonant and give new meaning/interpretation of the film’s events through the lens of that prism: faith, godlessness, sin, creationism, and the mechanics of the universe are all invoked by the screenplay and dialogue at points throughout the movie and what drives different characters like The Protagonist being a believer and Jesus-figure trying to save the world, Sator a devil-figure or pawn who sold his soul as he even word-by-word says, Priya violating a sacred promise, and Neil’s famous catchprase being one of faith in the mechanics of the universe and what’s supposed to happen happening.

The Performances & Villain

From Pattinson To Debicki To Caine To Diversification Of Field, A Brilliantly-Acted & Boldly-Characterized Cast Led By JDW

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

Nolan’s filmography loves to conflate the mathmatical and physical world to the metaphysical experience of the human condition: love, memory, emotion, and the unquantifiable feelings of man phenomenologically, and that’s foremost on display in Tenet. The performances of Tenet are fantastic – led by a career effort by John David Washington. We at CLC were not the biggest fans of his lackadaisical, somnambulent turn in Spike Lee’s critically-important BlacKkKlansman [seeming like he was disinterested and only there because of his father’s connections/name of Denzel Washington over other black actors who earned prestige without help]. Redemption and growth as an actor are phenomenal to see – and that’s certainly the case with JDW as he delivers a screen-stealing herculean effort packing all the sharpness, quick-wit, proficiency, cool masculine charm, and gravitas The Protagonist commanded. Not to mention: it’s one of the few, if only, African-American spy leads certainly of a movie of this caliber/name-recognition and cinematic pedigree – a brilliant partnership that not only works for representational-mutualism, but corrects one of the few [admitted] flaws of Nolan’s filmography: diversity. The previous canvases of his big blockbuster movies were pale in ~all major characters – and he rightfully got called out on it by several minority voices in filmmaking. Of course, identity-politics doesn’t make for good cinema if you don’t have the gifts/intangibles – but luckily Nolan has them in spades as one of the best modern directors who silences his critics like the pistols of its eponymous secret-agents. Tenet’s cast is extremely-diverse with actors of all colors and nationalities in major roles, all of whom give great performances for a perfect balance.

The Finale

A Miscast Branagh-Villain Wasting Magnificent Screenwriting & Genre-Confused, Tonally-Divergent Bay-Finale

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

From JDW’s lead, we have the strong female businesswoman of Kapadia’s Priya [finally, my people in a big action movie: Indians!], obvious class of Michael Caine, capable support of Patel’s Mahir, idiosyncrasy of Pattinson’s equally-showstopping Neil, Yuri Kolokolnikov’s muscle Quinton, Clémence Poésy’s strong female scientist Laura, Debicki’s charismatic mother living in a nightmare of domestic cagism Kat, and Branagh. Branagh, despite being a fine actor with a pedigreed filmography, is miscast as the film’s major big-bad Russian oligarch/billionaire Andrei Sator – looking old for the role and not exactly packing the power, punch, or memorability of a Dr. No, Goldfinger, Pussy Galore, or Le Chiffre: a shame since the character is magnificently-scripted with suicidal themes of fate being tied to radiation in his cancer in juxtaposition to the nuclear weapon he’s chosen to set-off and analytical complexity of domestic relationships, masculine ambition, the paranoia of money/power, and health-empathy. Besides him, however, Tenet is one of the best cast and collection of performances of Nolan’s movies – and elevate the picture. The miscast of Sator and poor-taste decision to release the film during COVID-19 and risk exposure of people to a potentially life-threatening virus just to see one film that could’ve been released on VOD [why I’ll be the film got mixed-positive instead of stellar reviews] are not flaws worth serious weight in the grand scheme. The third act is. The final act of Tenet is wildly genre-confused, tonally-divergent, and a betrayal of the intimate scale and focus elegance of the first two acts for an all-out war with enough explosions and detritus to feel like a Michael Bay movie. I cannot understand why the ending of the film is so incongruent and mismatched to the rest of the time-disorientative spy-thriller: a muddy red-brown fest of blowing up stuff that makes you almost feel loss-of-brain-cells watching for 15-20 minutes. A shame.

Conclusion

One Of The Best Films Of 2020

A Cerebral Evolution Of The Spy-Thriller From A Da Vincian Nolan With Epic Scale, Bold Metaphysical Aspiration, Stylized 007 Motifs, Göransson Muse, & Aciculate Reparté

Photograph Courtesy Of: Warner Bros.

Overall, Tenet is a masterpiece reimagination of the spy-thriller from a mind only as infinite and puzzle-like as Christopher Nolan’s. The film packs a lost 007 Bond-storyline clearly-referential of Moore’s ’77 Spy Who Loved Me brimming with all the genre-tropes and criteria one would expect from cars to masculine class to secret-agency catalyzed by a single-word code – twisted in the most bonkers, cerebrally-ambitious, hyper-imaginative [yet extremely scientifically-authentic by way of its deep-delve PhD-level research into everything from physical laws to electronic-postulates to paradoxical temporal-hacks – and still emotional] way possible. The film challenges the overt assumptions of nature in a 21st-century cinematic Sator square merging the mathmatical/physical realms of the universe and time with the metaphysical experience of human emotion in one of the most complex and ambitious films likely ever made – one that’s damn refreshing to see in a sea of formulaic and dumbed-down/safe blockbusters around it. From the opening scene, what steals the show most is the piéta of its Göransson score: a love-letter to the Zimmer soundscapes that have elevated Nolan’s films from the very beginning with clear referential homages – a synthy-electronica score of modern production, epic horn drops, gyrational arpeggiatio violins, fuzz-pads, and big blockbuster drums for easily the best score of 2020. The action is one of the most remarkable cinematic achievements I’ve seen in the past 5+ years: a damn experience for the ages watching fight-scenes and car-chases out of historical-lore in the genre reversed and forward simultaneously by-plot. The cinematography excellent, exotic locales and diversity a strong 21st-century audition, and performances absolutely sensational – from the strong female indian businesswoman of Kapadia [finally, our people in a big blockbuster event!] to Elizabeth Debicki’s powerless mother living in a nightmare of domesticism Kat to Robert Pattinson’s idiosyncratic presence as the bro with a secretive recruitment whose character sacrifices to save the world’s future to John David Washington’s career performance as the capable, electrifying, badass Protagonist whose stylized repartée and badass proficiency of action sequences make the thriller entirely. If there’s one flaw, besides the fact we’re not sold on the Kenneth Branagh casting for Sator despite being a magnificently-written and deeply-humanized/thematically-complex villain, it’s the third act that goes full Michael Bay-explosions foresaking the grace and elegance of its formerly-intimate cinematic experience. A cerebral evolution of the spy-thriller from the Da Vincian-imagination of Nolan, TENET is a time-distortion of remarkable metaphysical aspiration – with epic scale, complexity, stylized 007 homages, proficient JDW career performance, chef d’oeuvre Zimmer-Göransson score, & aciculate repartée.

Official CLC Score: 9/10