Christopher Nolan's 'Tenet' Promises A Global Espionage Adventure

Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - Warner Bros.
Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - Warner Bros.

From Esquire

Christopher Nolan's star-studded, cinematically impressive and dramatically soundtracked movies are always eagerly anticipated events. His 2017 film Dunkirk took $527.3 million globally at the box office becoming the highest-grossing WWII film ever made, and was nominated for a string of awards.

His latest project is shaping up to be similarly ambitious. Reports say that the feature will cost somewhere in the region of $225 million (£177.5 million), making it one of the most expensive films ever made, but still less costly than Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.

When is Tenet out?

Tenet was one of the vanishingly few blockbusters determined to stick to its original release date in the face of the coronavirus crisis, and but cinemas in the UK will be open from 4 July with social distancing measures in place, it's been announced that Tenet's release date has been knocked back to 12 August. It was originally slated for 17 July, before moving to 31 July and then to its new date. Which is apt, in a way, for a film about the malleability of time.

What's it about?

It's all a little bit oblique. The protagonist – named Protagonist, and played by David John Washington – is an agent of some sort who's tasked with stopping some mega-disaster from happening, and to do so has to use some tech that exploits and reverses the time flow of time. Kenneth Branagh is a very evil Russian oligarch in it, and he explained a bit more to Entertainment Weekly.

"A nuclear holocaust is not the greatest disaster that could befall the human race. Tenet discusses an even worse possibility, and it is wrapped up in this mind-boggling treatment of time that continues Chris Nolan’s preoccupations in films way back to Memento, through Interstellar and Inception."

Expect Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character to be a bad lad too. Nolan had this to say about him.

"Yes, there are no photographs of him, this is true. He is briefly glimpsed in the [second] trailer. He’s also completely unrecognisable. There are all kinds of things that happen in terms of where the story goes as the film develops and where it winds up in the later stages that we don’t want to spoil for people."

How does that work then?

Well, what it definitely isn't is time travel. Nolan's said that quite specifically.

"It deals with time and the different ways in which time can function," he told EW. "Not to get into a physics lesson, but inversion is this idea of material that has had its entropy inverted, so it's running backwards through time, relative to us."

So basically you're watching events play out backwards, before they've happened. Got it?

Is it a sequel to Inception?

The whole world-bending vibe is quite Inception-y, true, but there's no confirmation as yet whether the popular fan theory that the two films share a common universe is true. It's also not a stealth Bond pitch either, as Protagonist is described by Nolan as having "a very warm emotional accessibility".

Who's in it?

Recently added to the cast is Yesterday star Himesh Patel, who joins Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Clémence Poésy, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine (obviously), Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh. Pattinson has revealed how he was "locked in a room" to read the script, saying that he had been wary of doing huge films but that what he had seen was "unreal".

BlacKKKlansman star John David Washington will play the lead role, marking the first time a black actor plays the central character in a Nolan film, following criticism that his films are predominantly feature white male characters.

What does 'tenet' mean?

Tenet is the name of the organisation which Protagonist is inducted into when he starts fiddling about with time.

While 'tenet' is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy", Nolan's cryptic tendencies mean it's more than likely there's a double meaning behind the film's title.

As is noticeable from the official motion poster on the film's website, which spins the word around on itself in an Inception-esque way, the word tenet is a palindrome, which may hold clues for the plot of the film.

More concrete evidence from what we can expect comes from the sneakily released teaser, which Warner Brothers played ahead of IMAX screenings of Hobbs & Shaw earlier this month. As reported by Esquire, the teaser shows the following:

First we see a pane of reinforced glass with what looks like a gunshot hole in it, before the line "time has come for a new protagonist" flashes up, followed by "time has come for a new kind of mission". A figure, soon revealed to be BlacKKKlansman's John David Washington, walks up to the bullet-hole and puts a hand on it, then moves across to another bullet-hole.

Then there's a quick and smashy montage of other scenes with a clattering soundtrack: Washington in what could be either a bomber jacket or some kind of babygrow outside in the dark, some riot police running in formation at the camera, Washington belting one of those riot police in the face in a brightly lit room, Washington being frogmarched somewhere, then Washington wearing an oxygen mask. Finally, there's a date: 17 July 2020.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, whose atmospheric scores have become synonymous with Nolan films, will not be working on the soundtrack for the first time since 2006, having opted to work on Denis Villeneuve’s Dune instead. Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, who worked on Black Panther and Creed II, will take his place.

Tenet will be filmed in 70mm, 35mm and IMAX, with cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema, who did the spectacular visuals for Nolan's Dunkirk and Interstellar, and for forthcoming Brad Pitt space drama Ad Astra.

It's unsurprising that he's gearing up for another big screen event given the director's vocal support for cinema over streaming platforms. Speaking at the UK Cinema Association Conference earlier in March he said, “My memories are not just of the films themselves and the amazing adventures unfolding on screen; they’re also of the sense of occasion, of being a young child entering an architectural space that’s so much bigger and grander than myself; the thrill of the curtains opening, moving to enlarge the screen for a widescreen presentation.”

He's also joined forces with director Paul Thomas Anderson to wage a war against motion smoothing settings on televisions that ruin the visual experience intended by filmmakers. In short, he really loves cinema, so don't expect to see Tenet on Netflix any time soon.

Tenet is due to be released 17 July, 2020

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