jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
If “Dunkirk” was proving to his critics that he can create a film without all the things that weigh him down, “Tenet” is the film Nolan made to do one thing: flip everyone off with a smug look on his face while doing it. Because yes, “Tenet” is Nolan retreating back to the filmmaking we’ve grown to see with his previous body of work – bombastic, ridiculous, overlong, overcomplicated, TIME – but unlike those films, there lies a sense of thriving from Nolan in creating “Tenet:” this may be the first film Nolan’s made where he doesn’t really seem to care about the outcome, where he makes a film the way he wants to and decides to tune out the critics – for the better or for the worse since it seems like “Tenet” is Nolan’s most divisive film yet.
The self-indulgence of “Tenet” lies in its story: Nolan is, once again, creating a film based around the conception of time but this time, it’s arguably his most complicated work. It's in the form of a Spy film, harkening back to his love for the James Bond franchise and his love for exploring time (and I highly doubt that we’re ever going to see a film where he doesn’t explore time in some fashion – again, for better or for worse). The self-indulgence isn’t the major problem of “Tenet” (because you know what to expect when going into one of Nolan’s films and if you don’t, you’re living on Mars): the problem is the sound mixing, which Nolan turns to eleven to potentially drone out people poking on his weakest faults; the screenplay, as usual, is exposition, but how can we even hear what the characters are saying? How can we follow the film when the entire theater is screaming at us at the largest level? “Dunkirk” saw Nolan attempt to embrace silence, “Tenet” is here to destroy your eardrums.
But hey, even if the sound is deafening (and obnoxious), I'd make the argument that “Tenet” is a film seen twice: once to allow the film to wash over you, once to attempt to understand the film and what it means for you – this and “Interstellar” are the only two Nolan films where I feel its viewings are left up to the audience rather than Nolan simply explaining it to you within his dialogue even if it cannot be avoided that this has that exposition problem (EX; I love “Inception,” but its script is basically a guide – this is a guide, but I feel that the structure of the film makes it available to the audience to search what it means to them, rather than decoding what it means to Nolan or what Nolan wants his audience to feel, something like the immersive wavelength of “Interstellar” but again, even though the film seems to allude much about the filmmaker itself). The film is to be felt first, rather than studied, at least not at first because of how complex it is – it requires multiple viewings to formulate what it means, but also how it connects back to us and how and why Nolan made this for us. Ever since I saw this, I've been having dreams of people walking backwards and talking in jumbled messes – hell, I was out with a friend today and I thought I saw someone jogging backwards: the effectiveness that this film has over me is bizarre, almost like it’s pulling me back into its world and study it again and see what it means - even more so since it’s arguably Nolan’s least “expositional,” choosing to bask in the movement and the image.
For Nolan, “Tenet” is continuing to reveal his cold nature – shocker, when you see his films aren’t necessarily the most welcoming, but I think the intent on exploring isolating bodies against each other and forced to unite is interesting; The Protagonist is Nolan’s most alienated lead – note, not his most detached because Cobb from “Inception” is detached from reality and his own world – because Nolan indicates nothing about him: he’s merely a soldier with no name, no family, no identity – it's the kind of lead character that represents Nolan’s existential viewpoints. There's messiness within his life, but it all pertains to his inability with comfort: how quick he is to die (indicating that he has nothing to live for), how quickly he is to pull the trigger – he shows no remorse and when he tries to create something, it falls apart. One of the aspects that is most messy is The Protagonist’s relationship with Kat, which showcases his attempts at suave flirtation and charm, but ends up falling back towards machinery and mechanics and logic, his unity with Neil is lingered with distrust and deception – it's the ending, which is one of Nolan’s finest, where it seems like The Protagonist seems to find some sort of closure with himself in the form of a goodbye. Oddly enough, as much as it is cold, it’s also revealing of Nolan acknowledging his alienation within himself – it’s stupid, but I don’t know: there’s a reason for Nolan to constantly be making films that are this rooted in existentialism and this is no different. His name is purposeless because he’s not the focus.
The film is messy – on a rewatch (where I'm actually able to understand what the fuck is being said), I wouldn’t be surprised if everything I said in this was bollocks and meaningless; ironically, if this is the case, it would oddly be fitting with the film’s idea of time: perhaps I’ve seen this already and given it a five star review and I'm reaching that point of everything lining up. I've seen this two days ago and I'm actually pulling into the theater to see it – the point I’m trying to make is that this viewing doesn’t really matter: like I said, I firmly believe that this is a film to view as how it impacts you and then the second viewing is taking that and applying it to the film. Do I like the movie? Very much so. Am I possibly going to see it again soon? Most likely. The structure of this is based off my initial scrambled reaction – which is exactly Nolan what wants. It warrants another viewing because we use what we feel to apply to the film. Does Nolan care if we like it? I highly doubt it – this is evident that he’s done listening to anyone but himself. Hell, he’s made 4 other movies as complex and cold and ambitious and experimental as this – we just haven’t seen them yet. Four stars today. Doesn’t matter, it could be three next week or five yesterday. “Don’t try to understand it?” On it.