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Reflections on Tenet (2020): "Feel it. Don't Try to Understand It"

Editor's note: Listen to a slightly updated version of this reflection on the Stage & Story podcast: "Have You Seen? | Tenet (2020)"


This Saturday I visited a place I hadn’t been in a while: the movie theaters. At 40% capacity and with all the expected safety measures, AMC opened its doors to Dane Bundy…(and Johnson City) this weekend. With Christopher Nolan’s new film Tenet releasing this weekend, I wasn’t going to miss it.

Lines out the door? No problem. I’ll camp out. Soft drinks and popcorn that require a mortgage? No problem. I’ll sell my car.

This is a Christopher Nolan film, people. Yep! Never heard of him?

The Dark Knight trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012).

The Prestige (2006)

Inception (2010).

Interstellar (2014).

And now...Tenet. It’s the story of one man (played by Denzel Washington’s son) fighting to save the world. The enemy? Time. Weapon? One word...Tenet.

Not following? That’s ok. The movie will explain it all. This is Christopher Nolan, for goodness sake. And he has 2 hours and 30 minutes to do so.

I reached the theater at around 12:25 PM. Ticket on my phone. Mask on my face. I swung open the doors, bracing myself for the hum of my imagination-starved Johnson City people and their loud welcome I was going to receive. I considered making a scene utilizing my improv skills and massive movie trivia mind...you know...like yelling, “Leonardo DiCaprio's totem top never fell. Bam!” That’d get the party started.

I’m glad I didn’t.

Because when I passed the threshold and my eyes adjusted, I didn’t see anyone. Hmm...everyone must already be in the theater.

I decided to skip the concessions: I didn’t want to miss any of the previews.

Again...strange. The hallways were deserted. It was too weird not to take pictures.

I arrived at theater #6 and opened the doors. I took a tally of everyone in there...it took me a few minutes. One-two-three-four. Strange. Four people.

I found my seat, sat down, and reclined as far back as I could. I glanced over to the two people across the aisle (fifty percent of the attendance) and was shocked that they weren’t wearing their masks. So rude.

Oh wait, they’re eating popcorn. They’re good.

Finally, the movie started. And the opening scene didn’t disappoint. It was strange though...the setting was an opera house, literally packed with people...in every seat. No social-distancing and no masks…

Oh wait! Except for the men with guns: they had gas masks and were sprinting down the aisles. And then the scene ended. Hmm...I’m not sure what was going on there, but Nolan will probably tell us.

I’m going to skip a little bit ahead in my story...like 2 hours and 23 minutes ahead...and go right to the moment when I was exiting the theater.

Is it just me or did Nolan forget to tell us what was going on here?

Ultimately, I enjoyed the film, the entire experience, but a number of things stood out to me in the film. I’ve listed a few of them below.


Something was off with the score. Hans Zimmer can’t win them all. Right? Oh wait, Zimmer didn’t score this film. That’s probably why.

The acting was fine. Okay, well, actually it was a little disappointing. Even Michael Caine’s three-minute cameo was off. The strongest acting (by far) came from Kenneth Branagh who played the Russian villain. He plays monster very well.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the actors. But here’s the thing...I could not understand the vast majority of what they were saying. I’m not exaggerating here. I could not decipher around 40 or 50% of the actors' dialogue. Is that a new technique? Or was it just my theater’s sound? Maybe it was a COVID safety measure?

When you realize that character development often takes place through dialogue, you can understand why I felt that the story was all plot and no characters. I had little to no connection with the hero (literally named Protagonist) or any of the characters around him.