Tenet ★★★

Would do well with an hour or so cut out, but not because of how that sounds (boredom for me has little to do with duration per se). I mean this because Tenet develops an interesting form through wacky temporal conceit, but the director cannot at length help but give into the impulse to be the artist who wants to explain how they will impress you, impress you, explain how they've impressed you, and then wear out that enthusiasm by trying to impress you again. But Tenet, which Nolan consciously shaves down to bare mechanics (with hideously cumbersome exposition intact), misses this first step, pummelling the viewer with sound, image, and word, but without yet having explained any of it. Its temporal metaphysics are no more complicated than any sci-fi film dealing in time, but the way it tangles and tumbles over itself makes it completely incomprehensible regardless. Long stretches of exposition are met with the main characters exhorting you just have to feel it! or ah I see... instinct!. It is all just in service of the noise. And for an hour and a half the noise is riveting!

Nolan can't write people, and Tenet understand this. Its antihuman mechanisations have the subject always already deposed by their depersonalised abstraction ('the Protagonist'), bursting in two directions and jaggedly materialising across transglobal non-spaces cutting deals for information. The singular flow they must all submit to is the sudden eruption and decompression of terroristic apocalypse, and where the promise is not death but disappearance which all parties accept with glee, being grateful to just exist in its collapsing fiction while it lasts. And it's... fun, because for as creepily mortal as that sounds, in dealing with time Nolan makes it that we are ever aware that a mission successful means the relegation of what we have just seen to the virtual, to what could have been, and this in turn underscores the strictly virtual existence of his nonentities who can now disappear with the film. The nerd's version of it was all a dream is Tenet's simulation which is thick and loud and ugly, but joyously frivolous in its self-destruction. All of this and the film's reception goes to show that what was needed for Nolan's at once deliriously uncharismatic and stupidly loud cinema to be celebrated by vulgar auteurist types was his rejection by critics and film buffs for doing too much him.

The exposition-heavy pre-exposition first stretch commits to not a smarter film, but a weirder one, and where this paradox is able to just exist alongside its metaphysics. The brief collisions of inverse entropic forces does not make for Inception or Interstellar-ish FX spectacle but images either eerie (cars) or arrestingly peculiar (fights). These scenes are shot and presented almost humbly as-is so as to elicit bodily reactions from the viewer over (sublime) intellectual ones: we squirm and laugh and clap as bodies scramble backwards by a gravitational pull we can't see but feel, and tussle to the chopped up logic of a corrupted render. Unfortunately the less interesting contradiction (Nolan's unpredictable yet somehow always predictable cinema) wins out as the director moves into that earlier described explanatory mode. Our guides move outside of this jarring temporal simultaneity to get a better look at it, and the film language orients the reverse-perspective to a thoroughly disenchanting model of forward-moving cause and effect. At which point its temporal experiments in action-space submit to becoming a legible but completely unremarkable movie about time travel.

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