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What The Heck Is Happening in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet?

I don't know but it looks cool!

Amid the mind-bending weirdness of Cats and the discourse on Star Wars, let us look now to the future of weirdness and discourse with Christopher Nolan’s return to sci-fi (maybe?) in the form of Tenet. What is Tenet about? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly fascinated!

Here’s what I can glean: John David Washington, (of Ballers and BlacKkKlansman), who sounds exactly like his father (if you can’t guess who that is reading his name and hearing his voice, I’m not going to tell you), plays … someone who I think is in law enforcement, who … dies? No. Maybe the world thinks he’s dead, so he’s recruited by a generic white guy (Martin Donovan) to … save the world? Washington thinks it’s a matter of nuclear holocaust, but the threat is something … worse?

And there’s time travel.

Well, maybe it’s not time travel, but there’s a lot of stuff going backward—people, waves, cars, possibly Robert Pattinson. It’s neat. Kenneth Branagh is there, and that’s great. And it’s a Christopher Nolan movie, so Michael Caine is part of the fun, too, but it looks like he might be evil. Also, because it’s Nolan, I assume at least one of the women we see, probably Elizabeth Debicki, is either already dead or will die at some point.

This looks like a return to the puzzle-box, time-jumping, noir thrills of Inception formula for Nolan, who has experimented in recent years with more highbrow concepts like Dunkirk and Interstellar. It’s also a return to the unrelenting beige color palette of many of his film, which is … a choice, but who am I to quibble with an auteur. He’s also got that Inception WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM soundtrack going on again, too …

The fact that most of this feels like a rehash, that the backward time effect looks cool but a bit boring, and the conspiracy stuff is all familiar isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Christopher Nolan really likes to make movies of this sort, and … usually, they’re very good and entertaining! They may not be as smart as they think they are, but they’re always a good time.

Tenet hits theaters July 17, 2020.

(image: Warner Bros.)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.