“Don’t try to understand it, feel it…” and we could add to this pithy dialogue, experience it. Those of us familiar with Christopher Nolan’s work are all too aware how his cinematic vision borders on, rather is, spectacular. Add to it his fascination with time travel (Inception, Interstellar) and laws of physics and you can hardly expect him to veer away from the same notion of making connections between past, present and future. Only here he borrows the regular template of saviours trying to save the world, inverts it literally and in metamorphic ways too.
In the process he creates an action thriller a la Bond style, certainly high on steroids as one of its heroes Robert Pattinson professed in an interview. The adrenaline rush however comes as much from the superbly executed action scenes, slick and rather dramatic, as the alternating reality of different time zones. Yes inversion is a word we hear all too often. In case you didn’t know the title Tenet itself is a clever interplay of inversion, is a palindrome, as it reads the same forward and backwards. Expectedly in the narrative, forward and backward integrate. Early on we are told, there is foreseeable threat from the future. Did you read that right… yes indeed even the bullets seem to have come back from the future. The point now is; how do you avert it.
Rest of the action/ narrative is clearly about how and who all are involved and The Protagonist’s hunt takes us to Priya (Dimple Kapadia) in Mumbai and to the main villain of the piece a Russian billionaire and before him his beautiful wife Kat. There is talk of Goya, temporal pincer movement which makes it possible for backward and forward approach and yet we are also told, “what’s happened has happened.” Clearly the film is confounding by design and intent and is meant to both surprise and confuse you.
Principal characters move in and out of time loop before they can pronounce mission accomplished. But is it a masterly mission from one of our best known and celebrated directors? Well, the casting is not only spot on but also celebrates diversity. Apart from the lead protagonist (also called Protagonist) being a black actor John David Washington, there is our very own Dimple Kapadia. Looking fetching she has a meaty part and makes the most of it and emerges a winner. Ditto for John David Washington on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of warding off the impending Armageddon.
Robert Pattinson retains the mystique that so defines his Neil and it’s only the climax and anti-climax which reveal, provided you pay attention, to who he really is and where he has come from. The emotional core, a battered wife and the mother angle of Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) might leave you cold. But not Kenneth Branagh who as Andrei Sator, the Russian oligarch hell-bent on ushering in the doom’s day or call it world war three is remarkably menacing. Only how he who had begun to pick up radioactive material in childhood communicates with the future is rather wishy washy. Sure, we know this is fiction, but since it’s a sci-fi that throws words like entropy at us, more credible answers are in order.
And try hard as we might to pay heed to the “don’t try to understand” bit of advice, we all know how we love to decode Nolan’s puzzling screenplays, bit by bit and long after we have walked out of cinema halls. So, for many of the cinephiles who are till date enchanted by the mesmerising power of Inception and can’t get over the heartache that Interstellar gave us despite being a sci-fi, Tenet falls short on the expectation meter. Yet it remains a watchable film with which you can certainly end your movie-going exile. Efficiently executed, here time may not stand still, but then no one bends it like Nolan either.