Christopher Nolan’s Tenet has finally been released on home video, which means the film’s mind-bending time travel story can now be enjoyed in the safety of your residence. Science fiction author Anthony Ha says the movie is a must-watch for action movie fans.
“You’ve seen movies where things might play in reverse, but to have somebody who is fighting normally and then somebody who is [fighting backwards]—in that cause and effect is reversed—is just not something I’ve ever seen before, so that was amazing,” Ha says in Episode 447 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Unfortunately the film’s cardboard characters and convoluted plot don’t really do justice to its brilliant premise. TV writer Andrea Kail found Tenet almost impossible to understand. “I followed it for a while, and then somewhere halfway through it just went nuclear with the ‘What the hell is going on here?’” she says. “I’m really shocked and surprised that Christopher Nolan was able to make a movie that is even more opaque than Interstellar.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley loved Tenet‘s original take on time travel, but agrees that the film probably won’t connect with most viewers. “If the idea of a guy fighting another guy who’s moving backward through time doesn’t appeal to you, you can just skip this movie altogether,” he says.
Fantasy author Erin Lindsey had mixed feelings about Tenet, but thinks she might have enjoyed it more if Covid-19 hadn’t kept her away from theaters. “I think it’s a crushing disappointment that we didn’t have the opportunity to see it on the big screen the way it was meant to be seen, because I think all the things that we do appreciate about this movie would be even more mind-blowing with that big screen experience,” she says.
Listen to the complete interview with Anthony Ha, Andrea Kail, and Erin Lindsey in Episode 447 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Erin Lindsey on Tenet‘s villains:
“They make it sound like they want to reverse the flow of [time], but to what end? What is the end state you’re looking for? Do you rewind all the way back to the primordial ooze? What’s the plan here? That never emerges for me. And if you can use that reverse flow to plant things at various points in the past, surely you can do better than that. For example, suppose they’ve got the technology now to seed the atmosphere and create a sun shield. Plant that in the past, where nobody knows where it is and can’t stop it from happening, instead of just reversing the flow of time. Because that doesn’t go anywhere. It felt like they started to sketch out an idea—from a science fiction perspective—that could have been interesting, but they didn’t really go very far with it.”
Anthony Ha on Tenet vs. Primer:
“We’ve also mentioned the movie Primer, and I was thinking about that after I watched Tenet. Primer is a movie where for long stretches I’m confused about what’s happening, and about what the dialogue means, but I’m really invested in the characters, and I feel like I understand the general situation—there are these two rival guys in this company, trying to take advantage of the time machine in different ways, so even if I don’t understand the mechanics of a specific scene, it’s still satisfying. Whereas none of that stuff really becomes clear to me in Tenet, so that I feel like I don’t know what anyone has at stake. I don’t know what the overall goal is, so the confusion about what’s happening in this scene feels so much worse.”
Andrea Kail on characterization:
“At some point we have to have a reason to care about [the main character]. It can’t be just about ‘Oh, the world’s going to end.’ Who cares? There have to be emotional reasons. I think that’s why I needed an explanation for why he was trying to help this woman. There’s a humanizing reason there, I think. I was trying to impose a humanizing reason there for me to care about him because he’s caring about somebody else, but it never really came through that he cares about her as a human, or why he’s doing this. There is never any motivation for any of these people. I can’t figure it out. And that’s why it’s such a cold movie. It’s a ‘stand back and watch’ spectacle as opposed to ‘I’m getting involved in this in any kind of real emotional way.’”
David Barr Kirtley on time travel:
“There are two commando teams. One is going to drop in 10 minutes before the detonation and work their way forward through time, and one is going to start 10 minutes after the battle and work their way backward through time, and they’re going to converge and surround this base. I thought that was pretty cool. I was pretty confused the first time through, but I was less confused than by the car chase. And just from a science fiction perspective, I love the idea of having this battle with soldiers going backward in time and forward in time, and bombs going forward in time and backward in time, and buildings blowing up and un-blowing up. I just admire that audacity, to even think about executing a science fiction concept of this strangeness on this scale.”