Emma reviews the new Christopher Nolan movie – Tenet


Even Tom Cruise ‘Loved it’
Opens in Australian Cinemas August 27

I felt giddy with excitement as I went to bed last night. 34 seconds of video on social media had completely changed my plans. Tom Cruise went to see a preview screening of Tenet in London. Little had I realised, Tenet would be opening at my local Hoyts cinema in the morning.

I’d been eagerly awaiting the release of Tenet since the start of the year, with my hopes fading as the months passed by. Christopher Nolan is a long-time favourite, despite working in the documentary area. I am a big fan of Thriller (not turning thriller into horror) sci-fi, fantasy, crime, action… pretty much anything except rom-com. I love documentary, and primed myself by watching SidebySide last night – where directors including Christopher Nolan, talked with Keanu Reeves about the inevitability of Digital, and the slow moving death of film. Having cut my teeth with an old school photojournalist (rumoured to be the inspo behind Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now) I had become all too familiar with the digital vs celluloid argument. I’ve worked with both mediums up close, and despite digitals’ advancements and ease of use, film holds a certain warmth – almost a life force, that digital simply doesn’t possess. It’s like audiophiles and record players. As a self confessed audiophile, I love my endless stream of music from my digital curated library, but put on a record, and behold the hug you never realised you were missing.
I had thought distributors were toying with the idea of releasing Tenet online as Premium VOD – which would be a pretty big first, but also, like digital vs celluloid, DVD vs streaming, quite possibly the start of the end for cinema.

Nolan shot Tenet in delicious 70mm. He’s obviously found his preferred brush and brand of paint. He’s brought iconic moments over and over to the screen, leaving images seared into our consciousness. I love his Christian Bale Batman, and Ledgers Joker. Interstellar propelled high concepts into the thought stream. Inception went 7 walls deep, and memento was one of the first movies I can remember being told in reverse.

Now that I’ve passed through the Tenet machine and saw my reflection upon exiting, there’s a couple things I think Hoyts should take note of – Stop playing the Bill & Ted trailer before Tenet. It has the capability to ruin some plot devices. Also, some dialogue I found really hard to understand. It felt like sound levels were really off – was that because of the noisy 70mm cameras, or really – were the levels in the cinema totally wrong?

My last journey to the cinema, was for our documentary – Dosed. We were 2 weeks into a 6month season when Covid shut things down. Leading up to that screening, I had been finding cinema a less-and-less and enjoyable experience. The noise of the patrons rustling things, chatting, having brightly lit phone screens detracting from the immersion and escapism, along with the artic like temperatures. Also, not being able to sit where I wanted to.

As I prepared to book my ticket online last night, it occurred to me that perhaps this was the best movie going opportunity I had – the first ‘extreme screen’ session at 10am Thursday (should be a ghost-town right?) and in the middle, or three quarters through a pandemic…surely the cinema would only be hosting die hard cinephiles, who respect the social contract of the cinema experience. As it turned out, there might have been 10 of us in there, I got my favourite E10 seat and I was so refreshed to see how many older cinema goers had come to see a thrilling-parallel-universe-time-paradox-sci-fi. Woot woot!

One thing I really liked about Tenet is that plot is the clear driving force, and not character or emotion. Even the lead characters name is irrelevant. He’s one protagonist in the story, he is the protagonist of his life and experience.

Nolan takes your mind, unravels it for a while, before gently putting it back together piece by piece. That’s the movie experience you want. I love what he’s done with thriller, existentialism, and theoretical physics – what if the mirror universe is real? What would it be like to see the effects of an action before it happens? What if we started moving backwards in time – what would ‘Ancient’ Egypt look like moving from decay into peak civilisation?

We shouldn’t be reviewing the credibility of story, it’s not a documentary. It’s the experience of being told that story that makes this film worthwhile. Should we complain about the casting of the stories, or should we just experience what has already happened? Should we complain about being cast in our own story?

No amount of griping or whining can change the past. I’d rather take it in as it is. This was my first time watching Robert Pattinson in a film, and I’ve been introduced to John David Washington for the first time. I personally think they work well, and I felt at ease at not having seen either of them before which means no past-movie-baggage-benchmarks.

I love the parallel cause and effect ideas Nolan plays with in Tenet. It opens up much larger (and deeper) philosophical questions, which is what I think I love the most about his films in general. Not only are they visual feasts, striking with the depth of darks and rich colour moods, they also play with higher concepts that are often missing from scripts. The films become allegory and metaphor, inspiring personal reflection and questioning of our beliefs about our reality.

Story telling was once the way cultures passed on valuable and significant information. We look at our First Nations people here in Australia – their whole knowledge, lore, beliefs, practices, and history are told through story, dance, painting, and song, creating a rich, living, breathing reality. We’ve taken that universal story telling skill and turned it into a product. Some tell stories well, others tell stories just for the bang-bang, while some stories still inform and educate. Tenet allows you to enter into a realm of possibility, while warning you of the inevitable danger. Nolan seems to do this effortlessly, like an adept magician playing with multi-dimensional toys.

What I love with these well-done multi-reality paradox type films is that they address the elephant in the room – they talk about the paradox rather than pretending that it’s not happening. I also love those moments where all the confusion, and ‘not knowing while you try to understand what’s happening’ all comes together, and for a brief moment you feel like you can see the big picture of what’s really going on. I imagine that is what it would have felt like to be putting the film together in the editing room, let alone writing it. What a genius.

 As I watched Tom Cruise on social media leave the cinema, a patron asked him – ‘What did you think?”

He replied, “I loved it. I loved it.”

I loved it too, and I want to ask Tom what he loved about it? Does he watch films as a film maker, looking at technical aspects, special effects and character arcs, or does he watch films as though he’s never made one. Much like I want to ask every Astro-Physicist – when they see a ‘shooting star’ do they just see a rock, or do they make a wish?

I once wrote about my experience taking ayahuasca, which was an incredibly difficult thing to attempt to write about, but I’d say it was easier than trying to write with coherent paragraphs what I loved about Tenet.

I can’t help but wonder if Cruises’ 34 seconds on social media was an invitation to Nolan. I hope it is. I’d love to see what that finished product would be.

Go see Tenet, and then buy it when it’s released online and DVD. It is another Nolan you want in your movie library. It’s definitely one you can watch more than once. I was also wondering what it would look like to watch in reverse? How would I even do that?


It made me think of my favourite show growing up – Red Dwarf, and their episode ‘backwards’. It’s amazing the effects achieved by running film and sound in reverse. Even the Beatles worked out that magic and put it on a few records.



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