TENET. Starring: John David Washington, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debickii. Also, Michael Caine. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Rated M (Science fiction themes, violence and coarse language). 150 min.

This British-American science fiction thriller, tells the story of an international spy-organisation, called “Tenet”. The mission of Tenet is to prevent the occurrence of World War 111, which looms menacingly over the entire world. The film explores the premise that the future is best controlled by manipulating both the present and the past. The cinematography for the film took place in seven different countries, which included Australia. The movie is the first major action-spectacle film to be released after the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Christopher Nolan, who directs the movie, was responsible for “The Dark Knight” Batman trilogy (2005, 2008, and 2012), and the science-fiction thriller, “Inception” (2010). Nolan took out the Best Director Oscar in 2018 for his movie, “Dunkirk” (2017).

In the film, John David Washington is the Protagonist (called by that name), and Robert Pattinson joins him as Agent Neil, a mysterious operative, who also wants to ward off the occurrence of World War 111. Elizabeth Debicki, an Australian actress, impressively plays the estranged wife of the movie’s chief villain, who wants her to return to him.

The movie deals thematically with time-control, which is the path to survival. The film has a very unusual take on espionage activity, and viewers are exposed through the movie to time-travelling spies, who engage in time-warping and time-inversion. The main antagonist, and chief villain in the film, is an inhumane Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh), who “sells  the future” by “inverting”, or changing time. Tenet engages in time-inversion; human survival lies in the hands of whoever controls Tenet; and the threat of nuclear annihilation pervades everything.

The movie is especially cognitively demanding in the technology that accompanies its plotline. It has a stellar cast, which is under the creative eye of Christopher Nolan, as Director, who keeps viewers guessing and puzzling in fine science-fiction style.

Nolan stretches the mind with high-abstractions, illustrated by the concepts of time-travel, time-inversion, and time-warping, and the film satisfies the genre requirements of good espionage thrillers in an outstanding way. Its special effects are spectacular. Objects and people move backwards and forwards through time; and the future plans of government agencies are cleverly concealed to distort their true intent. The film provides a contemporary political parallel where Governments through history have regularly operated by trying to hide what they want, and the movie holds its tension well by this ploy, especially when it proceeds at such an unrelenting visual pace. Nolan threads the film’s complex narrative with fast-paced action, multiple explosions on ground, fast cars that slide and crash into each other (mostly, backwards), people aggression, and  exploding planes. In many respects, the film achieves its thriller thrust in highly original ways.

The movie challenges its audiences, cognitively and visually, on multiple fronts. Its visual imagery is inventive and complex, and its cognitive themes require constant attention, revealing themselves through rapid-fire verbal exchanges that can be easily missed. The film’s major theme is that the world is saved by changing “what might have been”, and it trawls the twilight zone between states of human consciousness and harsh reality, and what lies in-between.

This film cost well over 200 million dollars to make, and the cost shows. it solidly advances the reputation of Christopher Nolan, who also wrote and co-produced the movie. This is a technologically advanced movie at a socially conflicted time, when a major lesson of the present is that the past has some very important messages to learn from. It implicitly argues that there is a great deal of contemporary relevance in the fact that the past has to be well understood and accepted, to facilitate how human-kind can best cope with whatever the future brings.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films Pty. Ltd.

Released August 26th., 2020

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