The Question Christopher Nolan Seems to Ask His Audience in ‘Tenet’

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Tenet was hailed as many things. The movie to save theatres, the most ambitious Christopher Nolan science experiment, the first of his mind-benders expected to dazzle without Hans Zimmer’s orchestra.

But it is in the first 15 minutes that Nolan gives his audience a commandment. An order, a directive that comes at us through the words of Clemence Posey’s scientist character.

‘Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.’

But Tenet unfolds across its remaining 2 hours and 15 minutes as a beast, complete with explosions, exotic locations, and a stellar cast. And that initial directive seems to become all the more relevant. We are treated to explanations of entropy and inversion, given characters who exist in different planes of time and thrust into the midst of special effects of the time and mind-bending nature.

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And at the end of it, it is a question from Christopher Nolan that seems to ring through the film. A question to his audience.

Is it possible anymore for you to not try and understand my film? Can you just feel it?

For years together now, Christopher Nolan has grown his reputation as the king of mind-benders, creating a signature all his own. It is a theme that grew as a steady vein starting from the initial film, Memento. His 2010 directorial, Inception, was titled ‘a film you cannot understand the first time by the audience.

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The themes of humanity, time, and reality that Nolan explores took on an identity of their own in his films, an identity people across the globe responded to. It has become, at this point, a point of adventure to traipse through a Nolan film, decoding and untangling it.

It is a daring choice from Nolan to choose Tenet, to tell his audience to let their curious minds take a backseat. It is undoubtedly the most confusing of his films, with the least relatable of premises, and the most devoid of obvious emotional context. There is no dead wife, or abandoned children, no superhero responsibilities, or dying World War II soldiers.

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There is a Protagonist whose name we don’t even know, a mysterious but charmingly intelligent character who seems to have all the answers, and a woman, perhaps the only character with a personal life we are invited into.

So why here? Why is it in this film that we are asked to feel when the room to feel is so seemingly inadequate, but the room to think is infinite and tempting?

It is a question only Nolan could rightly answer, but at least he has given us the opportunity to try.

When we are asked to feel in a movie, it is feelings of joy, devastation, anger, and heartbreak that we may think of. Those are the feelings, the moments when abundant emotion is drawn out of us. But what of the others? Adventure, curiosity, anticipation, excitement, and even confusion. If we took away our preconceived notions of Nolan, of deep feelings in film and perhaps of the negative connotations of confusion, and re-watched Tenet, I wonder if we would find that there is plenty to feel. In Nolan’s previous work as well, if we applied these ideas, what results would we uncover? Nolan insists on impossible effects that are as real as he can make them out to be. Such dedication to a visual experience could only mean that he wants us to feel his world as an audience. To immerse ourselves and experience what the characters are.

It is possible that when it comes to Christopher Nolan, we have been mistaken all along.

His films have not been puzzles presented to us. They are not to be treated as escape rooms whereupon finding the answer, we leave the world of the characters- now knowing what they didn’t. His films have repeatedly asked that we enter and embrace the world, feeling what it makes us feel.

And now there is Tenet to consider.

The word’s definition is this – a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy.

Could it be that with Tenet, Nolan finally showed his cards? And in the first 15 minutes, gave us the true Tenet of the Nolan Philosophy for all the audience that loyally follows him.

Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.


Read More About Tenet – ‘TENET’ Analysis & Ending Explained

Tenet is a 2020 Science Fiction Thriller Film written and directed by Christopher Nolan.

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Mareena Francis
Mareena Francis Parakkal is a 25-year-old writer and poet. She has written about film, people, places, and poetry across multiple platforms and hopes to continue doing so.

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