Review: 'Tenet' - Never Odd Or Even

Christopher Fowler
No Spoilers There couldn't be because I have no clue as to what I just saw. Christopher Nolan's blockbusting head-scratcher is meant to bail out cinemas and bring audiences flooding back. It won't. Not because it isn't a great night out - it is - but because it's going to really annoy a lot of people. This is the first geek film in a long time, the kind of film girls on hot dates will be wise to avoid. I remember coming out of a midnight screening of 'Gravity' and hearing one guy say to another (in what was an almost exclusively male crowd) 'Well obviously you could never open an air-lock with an electrical screwdriver.' Nolan's film is a missing James Bond spy pic, rather like that bit in 'Inception' where Tom Hardy is in the snow and it looks like an outtake from 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. But it's 007 with an SF twist; 'The Protagonist' (John David Washington) is recruited into a temporal war of 'reverse entropy' by Robert Pattinson. This war is going to be fought in the future, but its detritus is already in the past because it is travelling in reverse time, and to fight the war you need to be going in the opposite direction (let me know when you're lost/bored) so your battle teams, labelled red for forward and blue for backward, can set off at the same time and move back/forward through time to reverse each other's actions. Got it? Entropy, the idea of molecules moving from regimentation to chaos, can theoretically be reversed because of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but I'm pretty sure it can't interact with stuff going in a forward direction. Not that any of this matters. All the 007 elements are present; gorgeous girl on yacht (the scarily tall Elizabeth Debicki), embittered Russian villain (Kenneth Branagh, all lipless menace), shootouts and punch-ups (fight with a cheese grater - Ow!), car chases (simultaneously backward and forward), briefing from mentor (Michael Caine in Pall Mall club), lovely locations (Estonia, London, Amalfi), big stunts (reverse bungees), and of course McGuffin (time reversey thing in a briefcase that looks like large hexagonal nut). True be told, this is not as theoretical or intellectual as it sounds, just very attractive smoke and mirrors obscuring a conventional location-hopping action plot with some delightful bells and whistles. And the biggest joy; being back in a cinema seeing something grand-scale in the hands of a good director. From the first orchestral note (immediately followed by the image of someone stamping on a cello) to the final ear-shredding explosion, you think one thing only - it's great to be back. And for those who've just seen the film, check this out. I'm sure you get the idea after a moment or two.
There's an additional clue in the film's dialogue: 'He's gone to Pompeii or Herculaneum.'
Oh, and I hid one in the review, too.







Brooke (not verified) Sat, 29/08/2020 - 13:08

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Glad you could get out of the house to do something fun. But... this sounds so 1950s, so boring. And so Dan Brown;..now the evangelicals will come out the wood work (ROTAS Square, alpha/omega, etc.) .

Christopher Fowler Sat, 29/08/2020 - 15:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Oh Brooke, Brooke, do you never wish to see grown men beating the living shit out of each other while large armoured vehicles explode?
I know the feeling though. I get the same sensation whenever Jennifer Aniston can't decide who to marry.

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 29/08/2020 - 15:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sweetie, I can see grown men beating, etc. by: 1) going to less affluent sections of the city at night; 2) watching football game between 2 southern schools, i.e. Alabama and Mississippi. Sorry, I am not blessed with the right genes.

Brooke (not verified) Sat, 29/08/2020 - 15:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Btw, who is Jennifer Aniston? Why do we care who she/he marries?

Helen Martin (not verified) Sat, 29/08/2020 - 19:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ooh, ooh! Me for that movie. Sorry, Brooke, I must have received the genes. I loved Mythbusters, too, and always hear a voice saying, "but cars don't blow up when they roll over a cliff," as I watch a flaming ball rolling down into the canyon below.
Why couldn't you open a hatch with an electric screwdriver? Why would you have an electric screw driver in a space ship anyway?

Brian (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 02:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Helen If you were on the gravity free side of the airlock and the screw was firmly seated then applying an electric screwdriver is more likely to result in the screw remaining fixed while you revolved around instead of the screw. You would need to find a way of bracing yourself first.

I with you on the explosions and fist fights but not so much in American films where even the most savage blows don't leave much of a mark. I find Polish films far more realistic in fight scenes; after a fierce fight they look like they have been in a bad car car accident - and then carry the visible wounds for the rest of the film. Also, their fights look much more fair dinkum, short, sharp and when one goes down he's given a few good kicks as insurance to ensure he doesn't get up again for a while. I watched that so many times in my youth.

snowy (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 15:23

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Astronauts spend a lot of time training in water-tanks to learn many things, among which is Newton's Third Law - (Practical Effects Of).

[Which is the one that turns you into a Space windmill if you don't clip-on and brace your foot before firing up the Black & Decker.]

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 18:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I only ever saw one real fight in my life. (I believe I've mentioned I had a sheltered childhood.) It was two of the neighbourhood fathers having at each other in our front yard. It was scary because I could tell they meant it and anything could happen. In the middle of the afternoon, just the two of them hitting and bashing at each other. Funny thing is I know who one of the men was, a neighbour from the house behind, but was the other one my father? That would be really scary because Dad was only just over five feet but he grew up where the boys got into a lot of fights. I can feel the difference between movie fights and the real thing every time.

I suppose you'd only ever have to use a screwdriver on the outside and the image of the astronaut spinning is very funny, but there are places to anchor your feet for just that reason. We're back to levers and equal and opposite force, aren't we?

Ian Luck (not verified) Sun, 30/08/2020 - 18:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I first encountered the 'SATOR' square in an annual for that odd (but brilliant) childrens' TV show, 'Catweazle', that starred Geoffrey Bayldon, who turned down playing 'The Doctor' in 'Doctor Who', and then spent many years wishing he hadn't.
Anyway, the annual had lots of arcana in it - which I doubt would have been deemed 'acceptable for children' today. Likewise, a lot of the spells and magic words used on the show were 'real'. The SATOR square fascinated me, and it got doodled everywhere, including in schoolbooks, and it bothered me that no matter who I asked, nobody had a clue what it meant, although some said it was old, and some said it looked like a magic word. It wasn't until many, many years later, that someone I knew told me that it's literal translation was mundane:
'Farmer Arepo Works The Plough'. However, in the manner of WW2 passwords, ie:
FIRST AGENT: It is very sunny today.
SECOND AGENT: Yes, but Paul's hat is too small.
- it could hide a myriad of true meanings.
The square is good to freak small children out with, when you show them that it can be read in every (except diagonally) way.

Andrew Holme (not verified) Tue, 01/09/2020 - 08:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My biggest action hero gripe? Try kicking down a door. Result - a broken foot. Every time.

Paul C (not verified) Tue, 01/09/2020 - 15:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I couldn't follow Nolan's Inception or Insterstellar either. Very irritating. It must be wilful. What's wrong with clarity and communication ? I suppose people arguing endlessly about the meaning of this film will help to keep it alive (like Finnegans Wake).

Reminds me of the following aphorism of Nietzsche : Whoever knows he is deep strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd strives for obscurity.

Spot on, Friedrich !

Christopher Fowler Tue, 01/09/2020 - 19:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes but...I sometimes like my European cinema to be wilfully obscure - perhaps it comes from writing so many dovetailed murder mysteries, which are after all about tidying up the world.

Ian Luck (not verified) Mon, 07/09/2020 - 10:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I do wonder if Nolan makes his movies so dense, in order that reviewers will give them favourable reviews rather than admit publicly that they haven't a clue as to what the picture was about, making themselves look dim.
This is the man who made Batman so dark, that a lot of people gave up on the character, let us not forget. I'm not too sure if turning a comic book character into an Ingmar Bergman one is a good, or happy idea, myself.