TENET: A Genre-Bending Espionage Thriller on Steroids!

A guest post by – Aneesh.S.

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Towards the end of the movie TENET, there is an elaborate military operation, to prevent an apocalypse. Two teams descend down upon a dilapidated Soviet-era ghost city to dismantle a doomsday device heeding the rules set by time. What is otherwise a run-of-the-mill action sequence in almost all the espionage thrillers is given a sci-fi twist and staged with sheer audacity. By the time this climactic act plays out, one should’veacclimatized oneself to the world of TENET and its brain-bending rules. Else you may find the final showdown and the movie mind-numbing.

Like any espionage movie the threat in TENET too is to the entire world. But the sign of threat is trickling down from the future in bits and pieces. The protagonist, played by John David Washington,botches up a mission in Kyiv. He loses his team butendures torture and cyanide in a test of loyalty and is recruited to Tenet. The protagonist is briefed about the essentials of time inversion in a mission spanning the present and a distant future. He embarks on a globe-trotting journey aided by his man Friday: Neil renderedby Robert Pattinson, to foil a ploy to end the worldhatched in the future but executed in the present. Along with the Protagonist, we too are pushed into a world whose laws are new to us. We travel with him, making mistakes, learning and guessing as the movie progresses.

Tenet is spread over a large canvass of locations. To reach Andrei Sator, the Russian oligarch played by Kenneth Branagh, the Protagonist journeys across the world from Mumbai to London. The tip-offs from arms dealer Priya Singh played by Dimple Kapadia aids him. In Kate, the estranged and infuriated wife of Satorenacted by Elizabeth Debicki, the Protagonist finds an ally.

As the plot thickens, the Protagonist gets to meet Ives, the leader of the cavalry portrayed by Aaron Taylor Johnson and the secret which accompanies him. After a series of thrilling events spanning across the present and future, the film swiftly moves to its exhilarating finale which unfolds in one of the closed cities of the erstwhile Soviet Union called Stalask-12. Like the Protagonist, the viewers too will be in shock and awe when we discover the real intent of his Man Friday.Emotional core of the movie is understated but intact and hits you towards the end.

TENET, according to the director Christopher Nolan, is a classic spy story. To make it appealing to today’s audiences he wanted it to have bigger possibilities. The bigger possibilities in TENET give it a genre-bending effect when the science-fiction trope is stirred with the tried and tested espionage thriller landscape.Resultantly, you get to witness scenes which you would seldom associate with a spy thriller. Along with the protagonist, you too will run into a concert of bullets in an opera house in Kiev, unfolding in front of an unconscious audience to the accompaniment of guitar riffs and ominous drums. 

A real Boeing 747 crashes into a high security Freeport bringing a masked man from future tumbling out of a secretive turnstile. Bullets are not fired but caught. Inverted men in masks fight men in the present. Apart from being thrown, punches are caught and ducked. Cars crashes get people killed not due to explosion but hypothermia. Vehicles move forward, backward and turn turtle on freeways only to get back up. A part of the building is blown up so that it stands tall for it to be brought down again by another explosion. As the end credits roll, you get to hear a futuristic sounding Travis Scott rendering “THE PLAN!”

In the “Behind the Scenes” footage released by Warner Brothers for the movie TENET, the director Christopher Nolan is heard saying: “With every film you are trying to challenge yourselves because you are trying to give something new to the audience. You do that by building on what you have done in the past”. You will spot all the usual tropes associated with a Christopher Nolan movie: the non linear timelines, use of real locations and objects, intercutting scenes, Michael Caine etc. But in TENET, all these Nolanesque features are on steroids!

At times, you wished if someone paused the proceedings so that you could sit back and decipher what just unfolded in front of you. But the only way is to keep up with the movie. Fandom websites are abuzz with character arcs and timelines. Youtube is full of videos explaining TENET. It’s impossible to grasp all the laws in the world of TENET in the first viewing. Blink for a moment and you will miss an importantdetail: a scene or a subtitle. Try to grab the essence of TENET and you can still enjoy it.

If you like to simultaneously engage your eyes, ears and thoughts to make sense of what is going on in the big screen and is ready to guess why something happened or what is about to happen next despite some slipups, TENET is the movie for you. It demands your active engagement! And what you get in return is a genre-bending espionage thriller escorted by rip roaring scenes and throbbing background music! A perfect movie to get back to the theatres post lockdown!!


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