ash’s review published on Letterboxd:
“What’s happened’s happened.”
It’s so important to me that my favourite filmmaker made a film about feeling lost and trying to find meaning in a cold world — though, many of his films seem to be about that: Interstellar, The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, The Prestige. Nolan turns an icy, distrustful, isolating spy story of secrecy, espionage, and threat into this beautiful journey of finding warmth and humanity in the undeniability of the human spirit to form attachments and connect with others through navigating a world that feels so completely unknown and hostile.
The film starts with a barrage of orchestra noises and then gunfire, colliding together synchronously like the contradictory flows of time — linear and inversed. A cold open that throws the audience headfirst into its scientifically-altered world, along with the protagonist. We see this strange, time-bending world through his eyes, we experience it as he does, learning more about it as he does. He is our perspective into this unknown landscape, he is our Protagonist, thrusted into a cold war as cold as ice, unfathomable in its true nature to most. But the film ends antithetically to its forbidding prologue — Debicki’s Kat walking with her son after school, an image of a mother joining hands with her son, a resolution of warmth that persists through.
Tenet is one of Nolan’s most emotional films; it’s cold, it starts off that way, but it’s all about finding warmth and meaning and some semblance of humanity in a climate that feels so rid of any kind of compassion. It’s also about reclaiming your own story, the way Kat does with Andrei’s control of her, the way The Protagonist does with his journey through Tenet. It’s a film about finding one’s way through the world, as complex and distant as it may often feel, and finding some empathy and humanity through that navigation.
If not for Inception and Interstellar, I’d say it might possibly even be his most personal film. I like the hope it constantly leaves me with — whatever has happened has happened, and we can’t do anything about it, and all we can do is try to make something happen for posterity, because posterity isn’t just future generations or a people conscious long from now, it’s also us, ourselves, the people we are tomorrow, and next week, and next year, the future we grow ourselves into and the people we become because of that. In that sense of self-growth, this often feels like Nolan at some of his most personal and vulnerable, because it’s such a therapeutic film for me in its subtextual messages of hope, purpose, and humanity. Just as Poesy’s Barbara mentions earlier in the film, “you made it happen,” we make life happen for ourselves. “Don’t try to understand it, feel it” — life is all about our instincts, life comes from us.
[Screened from an epic 15/70mm IMAX print]