Ok so Tenet is now out in the UK and the film makes the script for Memento look like the Script for the Power Rangers movie…the 90s one.
There’s a lot to talk about and throughout this, we’re gonna be breaking down everything that you need to know about its plot, the order of the events, and the way that the time inversion in the film works.
I just wanna get into it as there’s a lot to unpack but obviously there will be heavy spoilers here so if you haven’t seen it then I suggest you watch this when you’ve had the time…
Anyway enough of the bad jokes, let’s get into our breakdown of TENET.
TENET Time Inversion Explained
Before discussing the plot we actually have to go over the premise of the movie, namely the time inversion that’s used in it. Though the film tries to dabble with the idea of the multi-worlds theory which was coined by David Deutsch, in the end, it actually subscribes to the Grandfather Paradox way of thinking.
This theory states that if one were to travel back in time and kill their grandfather before they had given birth to their mother or father, they would find this impossible because one would not be born in order to travel back and kill their grandfather in the first place.
Even though the movie makes it seem like it could be possible to change the past, the characters in it are actually on predetermined paths to make sure that everything happens the way that it’s supposed to, whether intentional or not. This has massive implications for the ending and makes things operate on a closed loop.
Now as for the time inversion technology, we learn that in the future there exists an Oppenheimer like Scientist. In case you don’t know Robert Oppenheimer was the Atomic Bomb designer and similar to the real-life figure, this scientist develops world-ending technology through the use of radiation.
Within physics there exists things known Tachyon particles which hypothetically can travel faster than light. Because of this being inconsistent with the laws of physics, these particular particles are able to potentially move backwards and forwards through time.
The future Scientist developed a way to invert an object entropy so instead of moving forward through time, like how we experience it, it actually moves backwards.
However, because the future relies on the past, these particles cannot change things in the past and they must follow the motion in which they were put into the future which is their past.
This entropy has several negative effects on the human body and bullets which are inverted deal catastrophic damage as it’s impossible to treat wounds caused by them due to the object moving backwards through time. When humans are subjected to it too they also struggle as instead of breathing in oxygen they’re breathing in carbon dioxide and therefore have to don gas masks.
TENET: The Future Threat
The scientist realized that this would be a weapon of immense power that could cause the universe to fold in on itself if enough items were inverted and thus she splits up an object known as the Algorithm into nine parts and inverts them, sending them back through time.
However, there are those in the future that do not believe that the past actually has any bearing on their present and that they would create an alternate timeline for themselves to live in destroying it. Because of Climate Change and the way that the world is in the future, they are facing extinction and in a last-ditch attempt to save themselves they believe that wiping out the cause of their misery, namely us, would mean that their present is no longer victim to the things that we wrought onto the world.
Basically imagine Skynet but with less rebooted timelines and you get the idea.
Though it’s not said I believe that the reverse entropy studies stemmed from trying to reverse the effects on the world itself but they hit a brick wall and thus assumed that they could remove us in one fell swoop to completely mitigate the problem.
These people in the future communicate with an arms dealer known as Sator who we learn has inoperable pancreatic cancer.
Sator is an extremely possessive and selfish man and because of this, he believes that if he has to die then the rest of the world should go with him.
When Sator was younger he discovered a large metal drum in the ruins of a destroyed city. This was filled with several gold bricks and also instructions which were directed at him on what he should do going forward. This pretty much outlined his plot and it becomes the basis of the Protagonists mission.
TENET Plot Breakdown
At the beginning he is moving forwards through time and we join him as he is about to embark on an operation to stop a siege at an opera in Kiev. Here he encounters the first part of the algorithm but the mission goes awry and it’s taken by the Russian Forces. The Protagonist is almost killed during the op, however he is saved by a man who seems to be moving backwards. This man has a backpack with a piece of red string hanging out of it which becomes important later on
The Protagonist who I’m just gonna be calling John from now on because hey, if they don’t use his name I might as well use the actors, John is captured and tortured however he bites down on a suicide pill, showing that he is willing to sacrifice himself.
John wakes up and it’s revealed that this was actually a test to see if he was willing to put his life on the line no matter what and he is drafted into a secret organization and told the word Tenet.
Tenet is of course a palindrome which means that it’s the same forwards as it is backwards and it’s provides a way of thinking that really needs to be on your Radar…get it…because radar is the same forwards as it is backwar…nevermind.
In this organization John learns of the time inverted objects, namely bullets which he tracks to an arms dealer named Priyah who eventually leads him to Sator. Sator is a closely guarded man and John believes that he can use the villain’s estranged wife in order to get closer to him and find out what’s going on.
We discover that Sator’s wife Kat absolutely hates her husband but she can’t leave him because of her son whom she loves dearly. Sator has complete control over her life and only allows her to meet her son for a couple of moments at the end of school before he’s picked up by his men. Sator once bought a forged painting and should Kat try to do anything, he would incriminate her for the piece and thus she would end up in jail.
There was a time when the pair were happy and they spent some time together on Sator’s boat. It looked like things were going to change however when Kat was traveling back to the boat one day she noticed a woman diving off it into the sea, thus she assumed that Sator was having an affair and the two drifted apart.
Kat explains that she will give John a dinner with her husband in exchange for destroying the painting and during this mission, John comes face to face with a swat team member who is moving backwards through time. Inside Sator’s vault, they discover a time inversion machine which the assailant and another version of himself springs from but he manages to escape before they can kill him.
This pretty much ruins the mission and John lies to Kat in order to gain access to her husband.
Timey Whimey Wibbly Wobbly Stuff
Now I’m gonna kinda jump over the plot points here as there’s so many that we could end up in a video longer than the movie itself but I absolutely adored the way that Nolan put the building blocks in place early on before knocking the entire house down around you. In the first hour, I was a bit unsure of what was going on but by the end, it really came together after going completely bonkers. John meets a contact known as Neil played by Robert Pattinson who seems to know more than he should and slowly he gets in deeper with the character and the mission.
Sator tasks John with stealing plutonium however this too is revealed to be a part of the Algorithm and using time inversion upon himself Sator is able to capture John and his wife after things go bad due to several mysterious time inversions happening.
It’s revealed that Sator and his men carried out a temporal pincer movement in which one team moved forwards whilst the other team moved backwards.
Sator shoots his wife with an inverted bullet and in order to treat her, John and Neil travel through a time inversion device. This will give them the time to save Kat and they remember that at Sator’s vault had a machine which could invert them back to normal. The only time this will be accessible is when the pairs past selves are carrying out their mission to steal the painting and thus they wait in the wings for it to go ahead.
Back In Time
During it John comes face to face with himself and we realise that he was actually the assailant that was moving backwards through time at the art gallery.
So at this point John is moving alongside himself in regular time, hiding in the shadows and observing things. It’s here that he realises he can’t change the events that happen due to a woman named Priyah who refuses to help him.
During this Sator himself is moving backwards through time to the day on the Yacht that he shared with his wife in which they were both actually happy.
At this time he will set off a deadman’s switch that detonates the algorithm and takes the past with him. Unbeknownst to him though John and co are aware of this and with Kat they invert themselves and go back to the day that he was happiest.
Kat boards the boat whilst her past version goes to the shore and Sator too waits for his past self to exit it. Thus he believes that he is spending time with his past wife when it’s really the future one that is aware of his plans. Kat kills her husband kicks him overboard and then dives off the boat which her past self catches. The real Sator likely returned however this set in motion the pair become estranged again and led to the events of the movie.
Elsewhere Sators team go to set off the Algorithm and with Neil on one side and John on the other they create temporal pincer that stops the team from detonating it.
Neil eventually ends up reverting back to normal and he does this in order to try and stop John entering a bunker which is booby-trapped.
John makes it through though and he comes face to face with a Russian who has been ordered to set off the Algorithm. He’s locked out and has no way of getting in, however, he spots a downed man with the same tag in his backpack from the start. The Russian team members is ordered to kill John but at the last second this dead character springs back to life through time inversion takes the bullet, and then unlocks the gate before running backwards through the tunnel.
This allows John to retrieve the Algorithm and he and another soldier are saved by Neil who pulls them up through the bunker.
The trio decides to split up the Algorithm and take it with them, agreeing to never meet the other again.
TENET Ending Explained
It’s here that we get our first big twist when we learn that Neil is actually the character that has had the tag in his backpack. Neil states that John actually recruited him in the past and that they had a long friendship together. We learn that John actually inverted himself once more and traveled back through time, setting up things in place that not only included his recruitment but also Neil’s position. This is how the character knew so much and though it’s a tada moment, it also comes with a bittersweet reveal as Neil says he will invert himself once more and hang around the area for a bit. This, of course, means that he will go back to save John, unlock the door and take the bullet for him which will, of course, lead to the character’s death. So the last meeting of the pair actually sparks off the encounter that will lead to John making the pair meet for the first time in the past.
John continues on, tying up the loose ends including Priyah so that Kat will be safe and she gets to walk her son home from school which ends the film.
Though John will not go down in the history books, he will go down through history, setting things in motion to make sure that armageddon is averted and the things we saw in the film continue the way they were supposed to.
Now as for the film itself I have to say I really enjoyed it. It takes a while to get on board with but by the time the true time inversion kicks off you see how it all fits together really really well.
Tenet is an excellent film that I can see people discussing for years and years. The characters such as the protagonist do feel a bit underdeveloped but the complexities of the plot are what’s really special here.
This is a must-see movie and definitely worth going to the cinema for…well in the UK…I’m not sure about the rest of the world.
However, it is excellent and though I wanted to give it a Tenet of Ten…just to do that crap pun…I think I’ll settle on an 8…
not a Tenet of Ten…just an 8…does that work?
I dunno…look shutup.
Now obviously I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film and if there’s anything you took from it that we didn’t.