Live on Time, Emit no Evil
By Sadira Sittampalam
Tenet is a 2020 film directed by Christopher Nolan which follows a secret agent as he fights for the survival of the entire world. He journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that unfolds with something beyond what we understand as time.
This film was one that suffered from one of the most unfortunate things that can happen to a movie - over-hype. Nolan is a director that has a surprising number of 'fanboys' who are pretty passionate about him and his work so it was just that everyone and their mother seemed to think that this movie was going to be on the same level as the second coming of Christ.
Of course, this over-publicity yielded a lot of disappointment with some at the reality of how the movie turned out. However, going it with absolutely no expectations, Tenet is certainly a good movie and if this film came out with somebody else’s name on the director’s credit, I’m sure its reception would have been a lot warmer and acclaimed.
First off, the central idea of the plot is certainly up to Nolan standard. He manages to put in his own time travel concept and while it doesn’t entirely re-write the genre it is more than interesting enough to explore on multiple levels. By far the most interesting part of the time travel aspect is the way that Nolan had it presented which gave the film a really interesting visual aspect.
I don’t want to give away how exactly it all works, but safe to say every scene with it present you are going to wonder, “How did he manage to film that?” The special effects were just so intricate and whenever this merged with any of the action scenes, it was just so rousing. There is very obviously so much going on in every one of these sequences, where you definitely need to rewatch it to fully understand the mechanics of it. The cinematography brought this altogether, nicely capturing all of these elements in an aesthetic fashion.
These scenes were pushed over the edge with the help of the soundtrack which was so fitting and made you actually feel tense throughout. It was futuristic, active, and created such a unique atmosphere for the entire movie. It manipulated your emotions so subtly and as you watch this film, you can feel your heart slowly mimicking the beats of the music as it gets faster and faster and you get tenser and tenser.
Nolan also really knows how to keep his audience captivated throughout his films, as this movie at a pretty arduous two and a half hours felt like a spirited one and a half hour movie. It just goes to show how fast time flies when you are having fun or simply when a movie is paced appropriately. There were no filler scenes just for pomp and pageantry and there were no unnecessary plot lines of emotional turmoil. Everything was fully relevant and every scene moved the plot forward in some way.
However, with this came a few negatives, as Nolan really didn’t leave time for any emotional development. Many of the characters you don’t really get to know, and the singular one you do get to know didn’t have a particularly captivating story arc. This character’s arc felt slightly forced or not as layered or deep as she could have been for the focus she was given. It also made me realise that Nolan doesn’t really know how to write women in a way that is convincing. This lack of character development also related to the performances, as while every performer was pretty solid, they weren’t given a lot to do emotionally.
All of this also ended up taking away from the weight of the whole situation as there was no emotional heft and so I never felt like the whole preventing ‘World War III’ situation was something of that much consequence. While Nolan could have tried to develop this he still knows how to make a movie captivating enough for me to still enjoy it without any of this sense of urgency that most films would need.
The dialogue was another part of this movie that could have been improved as it felt cheesy and pretty blatant. However, with the amount of material that Nolan had to cover to get through this pretty big story, subtlety is a price he’d have to pay. The bigger issue with the dialogue was the fact that you actually just couldn’t hear what was going on.
The sound mixing was just really bad and a lot of the lines were unintelligible - and I went and watched this film with Dolby Atmos which has more than a 100 speakers that create a three dimensional sound experience. So if there was something wrong with the sound it was just the mixing - and many people report the same experience.
Overall, this was definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen in a pretty disappointing year for movies. While it isn’t one of Nolan’s best, it isn’t one of his worst either. This was just a good movie that will keep you entertained for its entire runtime - I just don’t have a really big urge to watch it again even though it is the type of movie that would benefit a re-watch (likely because I don’t have any emotional ties to it). So my advice is to go in with zero expectations and let yourself be surprised by where this super fun action thriller takes you.