Release: 14th December 2020
Format: BR / DVD
Fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
Palindrome. [noun]. A word, line, verse, number, sentence, etc., reading the same backward as forward.
Arse Ache. [noun]. Something difficult, annoying or time-consuming.
The word Tenet is a palindrome. The film Tenet is an arse ache.
Chris Nolan has spent an entire career messing with varying concepts of time and relative time within storytelling, with results of a mostly favourable nature. Until Interstellar, Inception was his ‘trickiest’ story. Until Tenet, Interstellar was Nolan least enjoyable film.
It is easy to appreciate the technical prowess of Tenet. Its grandiose set pieces and mind-bending in-camera chronological theatrics are pure filmmaking at its finest. What isn’t pure filmmaking at its finest, however, is a plot so convoluted that it forgets to make sense, characters so vanilla they forget to make themselves interesting, and a central conceit so sure of itself that it forgets to check plot holes. The end result is summed up when The Protagonist first meets Tenet scientist and story exposition extraordinaire Barbara. “Don’t try to understand it,” she deadpans, “feel it.” And this is precisely what Nolan wants us to do with the film. Intellectualise it too much and you’ll spend the entire time scratching your head.
Unlike, say Inception, however, Tenet is not necessarily a film that just unfolds in a neat and enjoyable way. So, the temptation is constantly there to try and make, indeed, sense of things; to get your head around how multiple versions of the same character can exist at the same time, in different places. Or how someone traveling backwards through time can kidnap and hold to ransom someone moving forward through time. And, just exactly HOW does a temporal pincer move work if someone travelling forwards informs someone travelling backwards, when the person travelling backwards has already had a significant impact on the activities of the person travelling forward?…I just wanted to see someone crash a plane.
Nolan wants to have his cake and eat it by chucking in stuff about grandfather paradoxes, and name-dropping the likes of Richard Feynman; hedging his bets against lack of audience understanding, but this really doesn’t feel like a sound representation of theoretical physics. Blockbuster films CAN be smart, and this is an argument that Nolan clearly wins. But they still have to be enjoyable, or at least engaging; otherwise you end up with a glorified text book. There are times when Tenet does enjoy itself, but it also spends too much time trying to justify itself as well; spiralling into an abyss of exposition and smug logic. Tenet is more akin to the fertile mind of a very talented and very intelligent filmmaker trying his hand at a $200 million thought exercise.
All of the above being said, it is still nice to see original filmmaking treated with such high esteem. As for the 4K transfer, what an utter joy to behold. The IMAX footage is deep and crisp, while the overall colour palette has a desaturated gloss to it. This might not be the prettiest film Nolan and Van Hoytema have ever made, but it sure does work its little tooshie off. Meanwhile, where Ludwig Göransson’s bombastic score dropkicked its way in and out of every scene at the cinema; the balance for the blu-ray release makes it more of a joy to listen to, revealing it to be the unsung hero of the entire experience.
Hopefully this will be the first and last Nolan film to require a paracetamol after viewing.
Film Grade: C+
A sizeable yet oddly vacant feature length documentary is surprisingly light on meaningful filmmaking titbits. However, it is refreshing to hear comments such as “the first week of filming was us all basically figuring the film out”. This is the one and only feature on offer, so it is a shame that a film with such theoretical bones has little-to-no input from those who study such things.
Special Features Grade: C+
A film that would send even the most ardent ‘middle bro’ into a tiz, this is Chris Nolan pushing the absolute limits of audience tolerance levels; both in story and character. Tenet may be a technical marvel, but it sure is hard work to enjoy.