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Josh Reviews Tenet

I’ve been a huge Christopher Nolan film ever since watching Memento back in 2000.  I think that Tenet is the first Nolan film since 2002’s Insomnia that I didn’t see on the big screen.  I desperately wanted to, of course, but I didn’t think it wise to go to a theater during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I was sad to miss seeing Tenet in a theater, but I was excited to catch up to it when it was released on streaming.  Sadly, after so much anticipation, I was disappointed by Tenet.  The film is gorgeous to look at, but I found it almost incomprehensible and nearly-impossible to follow.

Mr. Nolan has always impressed me with his mastery of the craft of filmmaking.  He seems to know just how to create beautiful and memorable imagery on screen.  As his career has continued, he’s been working on films of a larger-and-larger scale, and it’s been exciting to see how Mr. Nolan has been able to bring his visions to life in increasingly epic ways.  At the same time, I’ve always loved how playful and creative Mr. Nolan’s stories were with the basic structure of film and its depiction of time.  This was central to the excitement of Memento (in which we followed Leonard Shelby’s story both backwards and forwards), and has woven through many of his subsequent films.

At first, Tenet seemed like a natural extension of these ideas with which Mr. Nolan has been playing for two decades.  In the film, we learn that technology exists to reverse the direction of entropy on an object, or even a human being.  This enables that object or person to move backwards through time.  That’s a cool idea, and once I knew that was the central concept of the film, I immediately assumed that Mr. Nolan would apply that idea to the overall structure of the film as well.  I was excited to see how that would play out.

Many of Mr. Nolan’s films have incorporated mysteries into their structure.  Many of his films hold back key information from the audience until late in the game.  (Again, looking back at Memento, we see that approach to storytelling, as the film withholds certain critical information about Leonard until the very end, which, when revealed, completely changes how we understand all of the events we’d witnessed to that point.)  But, for me, Tenet fails because it holds back so much information that I didn’t have anything to hold onto while watching the film.  Even though the viewer is missing critical information for much of Memento’s run-time, we know enough about what’s going on, and about Leonard himself, to be able to enjoy and follow the film.  … [continued]