Last Friday I declared a movie night, suggesting that we sit down and watch Tenet.
Somewhat to my surprise I received agreement from both my wife and daughter. This almost never happens.
My daughter had been told by one of her film loving friends that she should see it while my wife, having watched the trailer on her phone after I suggested it, was good to go as well.
My wife actually said that the trailer made it feel a bit like Inception, an insight I had to applaud because Tenet is another Christopher Nolan film. I, having seen neither the trailer nor having been coached by a friend about the movie, was actually the least informed about it. Nothing was spoiled for me in advance.
And, having watched it, it is very much a Christopher Nolan film. I quite enjoyed it.
It is both a decent action flick and a puzzler that makes you keep track of what is going on. John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, and Robert Pattinson all put in good performances, and I have been a sucker for Kenneth Branagh since Henry V, though I am starting to wonder if he only even plays non-Englishmen in his roles. He’s played Americans, Germans, Russians, and Swedes.
Anyway, my main observation about the film, not wanting to spoil anything, is that it is very much a movie that seems designed to make the viewer feel clever.
You start out following the main character through their voyage of discovery as to what is going on. They know nothing, you know nothing, and so things get explained to the both of you as things progress. This can be a very powerful technique and, in my opinion, made films like The Matirx the successes they were.
As the film progresses and more bits and pieces of information are filled in, you will start to make guesses as to what is going to happen as well as the meaning of what has happened already. We actually paused the film a couple of times to confer about what was really going on. I can see fans watching the film over and over to pick out all the bits and clues about what is really going on.
The combo of learning with the main character and the feeling of cleverness really left me with a positive impression of the film. I feel a bit like Christopher Nolan created this to draw in people like me.
And yet, for all of that cleverness, I still didn’t call the ending before it happens. Nolan doesn’t give you all the clues and teases you with a few things, the camera lingering on this or that leaving you knowing it must mean something yet unable to attach it to something yet.
That sort of tease can be a bit of a hazard. I have been annoyed by shows that spin you around and don’t give you some critical bit of information until long after it should have likely been revealed. I was very critical of the first season of the series Broadchurch because at the end it felt like it had been jerking you around with false clues for seven episodes, then suddenly had a “hey surprise!” moment and it was obvious who had done it. I didn’t come back for the next two seasons after that performance.
But Tenet successfully avoids that trap and feels quite satisfying at the end. You feel clever, but not too clever, like the film gave you too much. I wouldn’t mind watching it again, just to see what other clues I might have missed. Maybe I could have figured it all out if only I had seen something.