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Review: TENET

NOLAN, SPECTACLE, AND TENET

It is month 5 of the pandemic, which means that movie releases remain few and far between, which makes my job here all the more difficult. In these uncertain times, one can count on only one thing: Christopher Nolan’s Tenet will continue to be delayed.
It would seem, though, that even this rule is being broken. For better or for worse, Tenet barrels ahead with its September 3rd release date. Despite its many delays, Tenet remains one of the few truly “big” movies on the horizon. After all, it comes courtesy of Christopher Nolan, perhaps the most popular active filmmaker in the world. Nolan, to be understood, must be viewed as a director of spectacle, rather than character. His films are driven by their material content, and motivated by the craft of his filmmaking, rather than the substance of the characters contained within. For proof, one need look no further than Tenet, or more specifically, where Tenet is being shown: movie theaters. Remember those? Nolan has resurrected the theatergoing experience just to give his film the spectacle of cinema he feels it requires.
Tenet, evidently, is a time travel film, much like its spiritual predecessor, Inception. Nolan, though, often rejects straightforward, linear storytelling in favor of disjointed timelines and intersecting narratives. This is a theme found through his recent body of work: Inception, Interstellar, even Dunkirk all feature time, and the warping of time, as central points of plot, to various degrees of inter-textual significance and extra-textual efficacy. To Nolan, time is a narrative device like any other, to be molded to his needs and serve his purposes, and Tenet seems to maintain this thematic throughline.
Much like Inception before it, Tenet seems to wear the trappings of a spy-thriller, and while it remains unknown what the plot of Tenet may be, theories abound. This writer personally believes the film to center around the prevention of the 9/11 attacks, and evidence supports this. The film, it seems, takes its name from the director of the CIA at the time of the attacks, George Tenet, a man with, shall we say, “intimate” ties to the attacks. Additionally, each promotional poster seems to feature a city skyline, or individual towers. Is it tasteless to make a time-travel spy thriller about the 9/11 attacks? Maybe. Ultimately, this depends on the success of the film’s narrative execution. I might well be wrong in my predictions for the narrative content of the film here, but again, there is evidence to back these claims.
As the review embargo lifts and the preliminary articles begin to trickle out, critical consensus seems to describe the film as an engaging spectacle, which, considering Nolan at the helm, is rather promising. Whether the film will do well financially is anyone’s guess, although the studios seem to think they can make some money off it. Perhaps they are banking on enough people longing for the theatrical experience to be willing to go out for a movie of this scale and significance. One way or another, this film will be a litmus test for the theatrical market, which between the recently struck-down Paramount Consent Decrees and continued economic downturn could spell disaster for theaters should there prove to be little appetite at the current moment.

Mitchell Horner