A very personal Tenet
Updated: Oct 18
I don't recall being away from the movie theatres as long as I have been in the last 5 months. Cinema is my home, my shrine; a cinema seat is my Freudian divan. The movie theatre is where I reconnect my mental charge; where I meet friends; where I cry and laugh easily almost without being noticed; it's where I dream and where I come to terms with reality. Being away from the cinemas during the pandemic was, to say the least, a punishment.
Christopher Nolan's most recent feature, Tenet, was for me the least moving appeal to go back to a movie theatre. Personally I was only impressed by his debut film Memento (2000) that has some similarities with Tenet, but never more I gave credit to his films. Until a couple of hours ago, when I left the screening and talked to myself in tears: "A single scene made me understand what home is, the purpose of cinema and why I was feeling sick even if the virus hasn't infected me".
Tenet's plot is ordinary: a spy movie in which an unamed hero -- the brilliant and superskilled John David Washington -- must save the world which is threatened by an abusive Russian lunatic -- the convincing Kenneth Branagh. It's a Bondish narrative in which car race scenes are magnified by a fire brigade truck and a real plane, and the platonic romance is never consumated, maybe because the duo Washington/Debicki lacks physical chemistry.
Chemistry though is the leitmotif behind the narrative. The cold war is still in place, Martin Donovan states. In other words, the Russians want to explode it all, as if Sting's lyrics from Krushev/Reagan time still made sense, "I hope the Russians love their children too". Furthermore, there's a child in the movie, a symbol of the future generations that may not have future, but he's almost never on the screen. There's entropy too, time inversion and death by asphyxiation. When those elements are combined in a confused script with multiple disorientating cameras, that's when Tenet caught my attention. When Washington wears a mask, I am reminded that I need to put on mine the minute I stop drinking my cup of beer. When I struggle to find the logic thread in the entropic sequence of scenes, is when I realise that the pandemic has left me disorientated, unable to make plans, or trust that the place where I feel at home will again be my home.
From that moment on, I buy any implausible event that Nolan wants me to believe. I am in the dark room and trusting that a stranger will guide me to enlightenment. So I go with him to all the sets that he wants me to be, to the largest outdoor set in the cinematic history: London, Amalfi, Mumbai, Tallinn, Rødbyhavn, Oslo, It is ambitious, it must have been expensive, but it was necessary to feel authentic. The kind of authenticity that answers me the intriguing question every migrant asks from time to time; the question I've been doing every day since I was in lockdown 5 months ago: where's home?
Nolan shows me the sign of a school street that happens to be in the district where I live. Those bricks, that typographic design and the postcode NW3 shocked me. In the film, that's where Elizabeth Debicki separates from her son. There's a gate, a massive wall and an isolation feeling. It's a place where she cannot hide herself, where her vulnerability is revealed. After all this is where The Protagonist (Washington) stalks her and begs for communication.
I know that those reasons are personal to be considered in a film review. I hope though that you'll find your personal reasons to go back into a movie theatre.
Watch the behind-the-scenes video here.