Tenet

Tenet ★★

[38]

At any point during INCEPTION or INTERSTELLAR did you stop and think to yourself, ”This is alright, but honestly I’d rather just watch Chris massage his prostate with a pocket watch for two and a half hours”? Well boy do I have some exciting news for you. He’s finally jumped the shark. This is it. This is his INLAND EMPIRE. That will inevitably read as a ringing endorsement for some - not coincidentally, the handful of people I know who consider TENET among Nolan’s best would say the same about Lynch’s de facto swan song - but there does come a point where the depth of one’s head up his or her own ass produces diminishing returns for anyone not in perfect lockstep with their particular indulgence. This isn’t so much a movie as it is a swanky idea that Nolan became obsessed with and felt he needed to share with the world. That it even partially resembles a film in any traditional sense is merely a byproduct of his first language shimmering through what this should have been: A goddamn novel. This takes every criticism I had for INCEPTION and puts them into overdrive. Functional “characters” tumble through debilitating amounts of exposition - and whenever Nolan tries to make his fleshy puzzle pieces sound “human,” the result is either tin-eared or unintentionally hilarious, occasionally both e.g. ”Everyone, everything that’s ever lived will be destroyed instantly.” [half beat] “Including my son.” - and clumsily navigate through the half-explained, overly conceptualized, seemingly endless narrative scaffolding solely to arrive at one big “aha!” moment which, if I’m being honest, never comes.

Not because the general conceit is too confusing - granted, keeping up with the gimmick here was like dutiful homework at times - but because Nolan sucks at multitasking. He crams a sci-fi event film, spy thriller, emotional turret into a cocktail shaker and gives it one or two lazy pumps before taking the cap off and hurling it at your head—the first ingredient is the only one that truly matters to him. Which is totally fine. Have a look at e.g. PRIMER: a great idea that realizes it’s simply a great idea and, over the course of seventy breezy minutes, doesn’t try to be anything other that an extrapolation of that one really great idea. The second ingredient may as well be a garnish; it’s only a spy thriller because that’s the least questionable milieu in which his premise can take place. It functions no better or worse as a spy thriller than any mid-era James Bond regurgitation. And the last ingredient frankly hurts more than it helps; it’d be like adding lime juice to a White Russian—not only does it taste like shit but now your fancy Irish cream is curdled and impossible to swallow without gagging a bit. For whatever reason, Nolan loves to ruin his cocktails with this goddamn lime juice; why is he not content to assemble a science fiction film without the pretense of some hollow emotional catalyst? Not to say that the two can’t be congenial bedfellows (again, see COHERENCE if you’re looking for a flawless injection of subtext), but Nolan has apparently lost touch with how real humans interact and behave such that anything not directly facilitating or advancing his spacetime ruse only gums up the works. It doesn’t help that his idea of women is irrefutably narrowminded at best and oddly submissive at worst—in his films they exist almost exclusively provide some motivational cantilever for the equally earthbound male(s) to continue trudging through the various mathematical hellscapes. (Yet another reason MEMENTO remains Nolan’s best—Natalie is the only female character that operates independently of some tone-deaf emotional pretense.)

Were this rewritten as purely an exploration in unraveling thermodynamics, however, I still don’t envision myself thoroughly enjoying it. His technical dialogue reads like a Wikipedia article because he doesn’t trust his audience enough to intuit anything remotely peculiar or abstract. Couple that with his headiest and most fundamentally unimaginable rubric to date and this is what you get: A film that’s 95% exposition, 5% action, and 0% rewarding. Nothing can breathe. Nothing occupies organic space. You’re either in the middle of a rapid-fire physics lesson or you’re witnessing a previous one unfold exactly as you were told it would. Never mind that there are several instances of the movie breaking its own internal logic or ignoring mountains of hypothetical side effects whenever convenient—one more indication that the construct is too heady own good. Oh, and I haven’t even started in on the abysmal sound mixing. It is difficult enough to keep up with the incessant explications on their own; doing so with the vocal tracks constantly being mumbled and/or buried under background noise and bludgeoning orchestration is an exercise in futility. I had the luxury of being able to rewind and use subtitles; I would’ve been livid had I seen this in a theater. I concluded my INCEPTION capsule with "Hans Zimmer needs to calm the fuck down." I think the same can finally be said for Nolan himself.

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