Tenet Review: The Spy Who Screwed with Time

It’s spy time! Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

Pacing is light speed, as is the dialogue, so subtitles don’t hurt but you do run the risk of missing all those delicious hidden Nolan nuggets interspersed throughout the film.

That and losing the plot amidst all the mad spy-fi action.

Yes, spy-fi is a genre now.

My advice for those watching it the first time is to take the advice given by the chick in the lab coat at the start of the film: “don’t think too much about it.”

At least not about the pseudo-science part. Do try to follow the characters and the flow of events throughout the film. If you can do that, then you should have a reasonably satisfactory experience. I suppose that applies to…most movies.

I must say Mr. Nolan has a knack for blending and balancing human emotion, sweet cinematography, fast paced action and wacky science and effects into his works. If you thought Inception and Interstellar were out there…then, well, Tenet isn’t that far off.

Set in what appears to be present times (or maybe not too long ago), Tenet is the name of a secret organisation that is tasked with preventing global catastrophe. Of course it would be typical of a spy film to have “save-the-world” stakes. Because of course it only takes one man or a team to save the world. Human power! Or hubris. But I digress.

And we are thrown right into the fray, from the second you step into the theatre to the credit roll, things just keep flying. Like you know that saying about having fun?

So yes, as you may already be aware, Tenet is all about time, and the wacky things you can do with a solid grasp of good time management. Also, there’s the Sator Square.

The Sator Square is an intriguing reference – if you’ve seen the film but never heard of the Sator Square, this might set off some light bulbs. Here it is below, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet:


Apart from the obvious name references in the film, the Sator Square is also a multi-directional palindrome, meaning it reads the same backwards and forwards and up and down. And at the centre of the square is tenet. You can see where Nolan got his inspiration from.

The Sator Square is an interesting bit of culture itself – it is a recurring motif in ancient history, from Pompeii to Italy to Syria. The meaning behind it is still something of a mystery, although it appears to have religious links.

That said, the Sator Square isn’t really that central to the film – it’s just a cool reference and the namesake, and perhaps an indicator that there will be some backwards and forwards business going on. But that’s about it. So…you’re welcome?

I must say Mr. Pattinson’s performance is truly top notch, as is Mr. Branagh’s. Of course we mustn’t forget the protagonist – an all round solid performance.

The protagonist does feel a little one-dimensional though, as his motives are never entirely elucidated. Is he just doing his job? Saving the world from an unseen and unknown threat? Does he actually like the lady? Or maybe he’s addicted to time travel?

So many questions, but not nearly as many as you’ll have when they start firing names, places, acronyms, code words, quips left right and centre. The characters are all clearly cleverer (that words somehow doesn’t sound right in my head) than all of us because they all seem to be able to keep up with the crazy shenanigans that go on in all the timelines and subplots of the film. But of course they do, they’re in the film!

No, that’s not what I mean. I mean if you were in their position in the movie, I imagine you’d have a tough time trying to figure out who is what and what to say to who when where. But then again, I imagine that’s what being in a real life spy campaign is like.

Also, long distance radio connection from an underground facility that is quite possibly still heavily radioactive? Hellooooo? I guess the film is actually set in the distant future when they can actually get a semi-stable halfway-decent internet connection.

The soundtrack is a little otherworldly, and I wonder what it would sound like played backwards. Might scream for Sator or Arepo or some deity’s name. I heard complaints about it being a little loud and overpowering the dialogue, but I felt the volume levels were reasonably well tuned. If anything the visuals in the action scenes were harder to follow, what with things happening in strange sequences and lots of little details thrown around.

Overall a clever film that makes you think (forces, I daresay) with enough action and drama to keep you on the edge of your seat even if you forget about all the sciencey physics defying stunts they pull.

But if you like to think things through and make sense of it all, then this film is definitely for you. I daresay they could turn it into a series, like Dark. And no, I’m not saying that because the main character is of a certain ethnicity.

And at the end of it all, I realised I don’t even know the bloody fool’s name. They forgot to name their protagonist.