Tenet is a Welcome Complication

October 14, 2020

Prepare to be amazed. Confused. Befuddled. And prepare to be okay with that–otherwise, Tenet, writer and director Christopher Nolan’s latest flick, is not the movie for you.

But it is the movie for me.

Tenet is a wildly imaginative, action-packed work that will amaze you as you ponder the sheer enormity of questions it evokes…or hopelessly irritate you by its sheer complexity. Which side you, the viewer, will fall on will depend on your willingness to be entertained in the midst of confusion. If you’re not okay with potentially walking out of the theater not quite understanding every aspect of what you’ve just seen, then again, Tenet is not the movie for you.

So what is Tenet about? Trying to describe the plot without giving too much away is probably the toughest thing I’ve done this week. And that’s something considering the fact that I’m a high-school teacher trying to navigate the unexpected and frustrating landscape of virtual teaching. But here goes: Tenet follows the path of a man (John David Washington) who is trying to save the world from total annihilation at the hands of an evil Russian. How he does that invokes questions of what one might simplistically call “time travel,” but in a way you’ve never seen before and frankly, couldn’t possibly imagine.

Solid acting by Robert Pattinson (Twilight), Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express), and Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) keeps the plot moving, along with fairly constant and brilliantly choreographed action sequences.

Two slight negatives (which by no means ruined my appreciation of the movie) were that the final action sequence went on a bit too long, and that I found myself puzzled by my lack of emotional connection with the main character. While watching, I kept asking myself “Why? Why am I not identifying with the main character the same way I identified with Leonardo DiCaprio’s main character in Nolan’s masterpiece, Inception? Was it because I’d never seen the actor (John David Washington) before? Was it because his acting was missing something? Was my lack of connection due to something else?

“I mean, I don’t even know what the main character’s name is!” I said to my daughter after we left the theater. “Maybe that’s why I’m not identifying with him.” After doing a little online research I was floored to learn that the main character’s name was, amazingly, “Protagonist.” Why would Nolan do that? “ Because you don’t really need to know what the main character’s name is,” my daughter said. “It’s not about him. It’s about the process.”


Overall, Nolan has produced another mind-bending masterpiece of complexity. While it doesn’t quite climb to the pinnacle of cinematic perfection like Inception, it is definitely an improvement on Nolan’s Interstellar, which dragged in parts. This is definitely a movie worth watching again and again. I give it 7.5 out of 10 stars.

Writer’s note: We saw the movie in mid-September on a Saturday afternoon at Regal Theater in Charlottesville. We were literally the only people in the theater. Masks are required, and since you can’t get too much more socially distant than being the only people in a very large theater, we felt very safe. However I can’t recommend that you go see it there because Regal just announced that they are shutting down until next year due to Covid. My guess is that Tenet will make a quick transfer to DVD or online viewing within a few months, at which time it will be very much worth your renting.

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Photo of Elizabeth Pellicane
Elizabeth Pellicane, Publisher/Adviser

Elizabeth Pellicane has been the Yearbook and Journalism Adviser at Fluvanna County High School since 2009. She teaches Journalism, Mass Media, and Creative...

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