Tenet

Tenet ★★★★

There's a frustrating trope in a lot of recent prestige sci-fi where the threat of impending catastrophe has to be grounded in personal relationships to hold gravity. It seems based around this implication that we can't identify with humanity as a collective, as if empathy only extends to our close relationships. I'm talking about films like Interstellar or Annihilation, where an impending apocalypse threatening life on Earth is only really consequential when contextualized as a threat to a family member. It's defined by individualism, an inability to empathize outside of our close personal relationships. And I find it extremely off-putting.

In Tenet, the protagonist (or as the credits reveal: the Protagonist) has no backstory, no relationships, nor any particularly clear values. He's more or less nothing. Nolan eschews character development to center the film's threat (worse than nuclear holocaust!!!) for what it is: a threat to humanity. The film represents catastrophe as violence to the collective, rather than the individual, and I found that refreshing in the midst of a genre plagued by individualism. Granted, there are some complications, mostly in how Nolan uses the Elizabeth Debicki character. But by and large, by avoiding the obligatory emotional conventions that feel artificial in some of his earlier movies (e.g. Interstellar), he winds up making a far more empathetic movie.

As for everything else? Movie's kinda a vibe. There's definitely a choppiness to some of the editing I didn't expect for a picture of this size, but Nolan's mechanics of time travel are really fun, both in their application to fight scenes and service to the narrative. Definitely corny as fuck, but (as someone mostly ambivalent to Nolan) it's fascinating to see him at the top of his game the more he leans into his impulses.

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