I could tell you the entire plot and key scenes of this film without spoiling it. I love good time travel movies, but they are simple by comparison to this looping, parallel timeline action film in which John David Washington, known as “The Protagonist” and his strangely familiar partner Neil, played by Robert Pattinson, set out to save the world from something they don’t understand. Washington recently starred in BlacKkKlansman, which was a walk in the park compared to this very physical role as a CIA type who has been tested for inclusion in a secret organization that operates outside of time and national interests. Michael Caine makes a brief appearance as Crosby, an elite conduit to forged art and the world of uber-wealthy arms dealers.
If you’re familiar with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during the 1940s, lead scientist Robert Oppenheimer has an analogous team leader hundreds of years in the future. That female scientist is working on a project so dangerous to the existence of everything that she hides nine components back in time and kills herself to prevent her knowledge from being known. The project is called Tenet and it has fallen into the hands of Andrei Sator, a crazed Russian oligarch suffering from a terminal illness. He plans the annihilation of the entire history of the human species rather than die and leave the world to continue in his absence. As with his estranged wife, if he can’t have her no one can.
“What’s happened has happened” is repeated frequently throughout the film. People and things are “inverted” through time turnstyles, machines that act as portals to a backward running parallel dimension. This results in fights, battles and chases being run simultaneously in positive and negative time, bullets being caught by guns and characters coming dangerously close to their alter-selves, sometimes without even being aware. The climactic James Bond-like battle scene is filmed with red and blue teams of soldiers running against ten-minute countdown and count-up clocks toward the same zero point. One’s knowledge of the other’s actions contributes to confusing reversals within the action and results in unexplainable paradoxes that defy logic and physics. Buildings are simultaneously blown up and reconstructed as timelines cross. The sometimes overly ominous musical score has snippets of backward sounds, and some dialogue is played both forward and reversed.
It’s no surprise that Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this mind bender. He is also responsible for Memento, Inception and Interstellar, all cerebral and non-linear productions, but not to this level.
I recommend being well rested before seeing this movie. It’s worth seeing, perhaps more than once if you really want to understand what’s happening. But that might require using the turnstyle to run a temporal pincer operation in order to give future information to your past self. Yeah, it’s that complicated.
Tenet (2020) runs 2 hours, 30 minutes and is rated PG-13