Thursday, 27 August 2020

Movie Review: Tenet

 “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds” - a line that crossed Oppenheimer's mind as he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear device in 1945. Perfectly describes the main villain of Tenet.

After a career spanning 22 years since The Following, Christopher Nolan never ceases to amaze the audience with his mind-boggling, jaw-dropping, head-scratching existential and epistemological themes, exploring the concepts of time, memory, space, identity and superhero. His unconventional narrative structures of the plot often surprises people, Tenet is no exception as well.

Once again, this is another creative, never-before-seen blockbuster packed with original, ambitious ideas by Nolan, while also seems like a culmination, or maturation of Nolan's past successful works. Memento has non-linear storytelling, with narratives going backwards and forwards in time; Interstellar has time-travel with manipulation of gravity, the relativity of time in different worlds; Inception has heist structured with the concept of dream layers rather than conventional treasure vault infiltration. Tenet structures its spy espionage with the new concept: Time inversion.

Despite what's being said in the media, Tenet is really not about time travel, but time inversion - or rather the reversion of entropies of objects or persons. Time travelling is the capability to jump to a specific point in time of the past. Time inversion happens when an object's entropy is reversed, giving us the perception that something moving backwards in time. In Tenet, if you want to travel back to 40 years ago, you have to live those 40 years in reverse. Tenet can be said as Nolan's most confusing film, much like the Protagonist's trainer, Laura mentions:"Don't try to understand it. Feel it." 

Tenet is remarkably fast-paced, the movie swiftly opens with a terrorist siege at the Kiev opera house in Ukraine, where we're introduced to the Protagonist (yes, our main character doesn't have a name), the key item at stake is part of the Algorithm, a doomsday device that's capable of reversing the world's entropy, which is essentially the item that triggers a temporal war between the people of the past and future.

Confused? Your mind's hurting? For many, Nolan's films often requires multiple viewings due to its complexity. "Temporal pincer movements", "temporal turnstiles" aren't that easy to get in the first viewing. In Nolan's past works, heavy expositions are usually provided to ease the cinemagoers to understand what's going on, due to the complex nature of ideas, plot presented in the film, which is the subject of criticism by many. This time it's different. This sci-fi spy espionage action thriller trusts the viewer's capability to think its complex plot points fast and understands it well to make sense of what's going on. Nolan's films tend to be wildly satisfying should the viewer willing to put the effort of giving some thoughts of what it tries to present.

As usual, Nolan's approach to visual effects and action scene design is heavily grounded and minimum computer rendered effects are done, to provide a heightened sense of reality. Nolan really uses a real Boeing 747 to do the crash sequence. The reversed car crashes, time-synced explosions or even hand-to-hand moving in backwards action sequences are quite impressive.

However, it's to say that Tenet is not really Christopher Nolan's masterpiece, despite it's a thrilling, great blockbuster to behold. Tenet does struggles on its characterization part. Many characters in the film are well-casted, lines are delivered wonderfully, but they're not sufficiently well-developed, much of the time was given to the plot and action instead. Tenet still suffers from lack of emotional depth of its characters, a common criticism for some of Nolan's works, voiced out by many critics in the past. It's not as neat as the grand existentialism showcase of Interstellar or Inception's multi-layered dreams (also personal loss of Cobb that affects his work as an Extractor).

The ending of Tenet is less ambiguous this time around, it closes where it starts. It's a neat way to wrap things up much like Memento. Overall, Tenet is an incredibly bold, creative undertaking which took Nolan 5 years to complete the screenplay for us to see it in the big screen now. It's an achievement.

Rating: 8.5/10

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