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Making Blockbuster Movies that are Ideologically Meaningful Yet Unpolished in Order to Push Your View of the World Isn't Really Enjoyable

Nolan, I feel you bruh, but switch it up - A Review of Tenet
Published onApr 12, 2022
Making Blockbuster Movies that are Ideologically Meaningful Yet Unpolished in Order to Push Your View of the World Isn't Really Enjoyable

Nolan has crafted an original story, with an incredibly relevant narrative, As we move through our climate crisis, one must ask will the future forgive us? Nolan explores this dichotomy expertly, thematically. But Tenet has no character, unlike Twelve Monkeys. And It’s not Primer. The general story felt predictable because, uh, I don’t know, Back to the Future Part II. Like as soon they started fighting in the clear port I’m like oh, the bad guy is Biff and the protagonist is going back in time to stop him.

Now I bought into the whole “it is time travel don’t worry about understanding it” thing. Turns out there is a lot of exposition about time travel though….. Why set up this air of fate, when THE WAY IT IS PRESENTED IS COMPLEX. This invalidates the scene with the woman who shows him inverted materials and makes the exposition on the time shit underwhelming. Nolan won’t expand but many fanboys will because he leaves room for his films to “explore” through his consistent themes. I’m sure I missed something. But who cares, the film is rated above average, not enduring, but not terrible.

I am reminded of the twist in Memento. The main character, the man with no permanent sense of self seems delusional at the end because the film grows from a time-neutral perspective. You would think the protag comes into contact with this, but no. Nolan does not follow through on this neutrality towards the protag. The protag succeeds and he is now the leader of TENET? I do not know. I can appreciate the will to “believe“ in a better future, but who cares. Who are you bro? It’s a complete 180 from the characterization we see in Memento, leading me to ask if this is growth or regression. I am of the mind that Nolan does not want to make films, but I will explore that later.

Normally Nolan sacrifices his cool themes and character growth for his ideas. This was the same but different. I will probably never watch Intersteller again, but the scene where Matthew Mc-caw-ne-hey is pleading for his daughter is emotional. None of the scenes in this movie are. Pattison has the most interesting character on film, but he is not our main, and Pattison just kind of comes out of nowhere.

The main character’s development is in contention with the main theme of the movie, which makes it hard to analyze. On one hand, time is unexplainable, on the other “here’s” your protagonist crushing that setup with the power of friendship. Time can be changed yada yada. Not sure if Nolan is trolling or if this is to be taken seriously. We just don’t get the feeling of legit stakes being involved you get when watching The Saint and as a bad film, Next has a better “future shit needs to be stopped” plot(both written by Jonathan Hensleigh). I think Tenet is enjoyable, but it does not have flying hats, men with metal jaws, women killed by being covered in gold, sharks with lasers, etc. No one in this film matters but the tone is so serious. Nolan sacrifices character development and exposition for the ideal of what he wants to portray. Also, when did society figure out time travel? Before during or after the fall. Who cares. Remember Interstellar. The movie where we could go to a black hole in spaceships with lego robots but not fix some esoteric catastrophe at home. I would just like Nolan films to flow. They don’t. He makes the prettiest most idealistic version of a B-list action film and it seems wasteful.

Now, everything considered, I thought it was going well because I expect Nolan to be inconsistent in execution while carrying his themes in his movies.

That is until I looked up the 2-hour mark and saw I had another 30 mins to go. It took a week to build a passing curiosity about what the ending may be.

The last action scene is a raid on the time compound with magic metals with what is described as a tactical time pincer attack where one group goes back in time and the other remains on the main timeline to fight the bad guys. But what it looked like to me was a bunch of idiots walking into a kill zone. We only see about 6-9 bad guys in this scene though….A lot of shooting. A lot of explosions. But nothing was shot. Worse than the Dark Knight Rises street fight scene. (Like bruh, when did charging a bunch of people with tanks and automatic weapons become a successful strategy. Mute the sound and watch it again. It is silly. )

Now thematically, Neil going back in time to get the door open, dying in the process, and saving the Protagonist is awesome. It’s cool to think about what if he invented time travel, came back in time, ended his father, blah blah blah but who cares. Nolan certainly does not.

This movie has allowed me to process my animosity for Nolan more cogently. All of his films deal with characters who question their role in the narratives taking shape around them. Let’s consider

  • Memento - character rather live a lie than face his wife’s death. Memory loss is the mechanism behind this. The first and second watches are priceless. But this character sets the tone for his later protagonist. Only he has a bigger budget to fuck around with.

  • Batman series - Rather be a villain than deal with the citys’ crime. And will blackmail his employees into not revealing the fact that Bruce Wayne spends company money on his escapades. I might even argue that Batman is not a hero in the last 2 films. The dude is never in Gotham just protecting people from crime. It is almost like Nolan has to force Batman into not being a hero so he can fulfill his plot wherein…IDK...Batman quits…who cares.

  • Inception - This film is complete, but I have chosen to say fuck you Nolan. The end means the film’s events matter for their character or they do not. If I wanted a three-hour choose your adventure I would play Elder Scrolls. I start not to care about the plot as it drags on. And by the time the van starts flipping over, I just want to see the end. The better story is about the son transcending the father. Dreams are the mechanism, and we see Nolan at his most Meta. Dreams == Movies, Real Plot==Scarecrow face

  • Interstellar - Love won’t stop a global crisis, but it will get you out of black holes and propel you through space. This may be him trying to tell a direct story, which I can not see him being interested in. Let’s just ignore plot holes on this one. Black holes are his mechanism for a commentary on love

  • Tenet - Back to the future, with a less coherent time travel angle. Not sure if he is saying save the cheerleader, save the world. Cause it seems the protag is someone who would stop that. I am not sure. It’s at least save the boy saves the day. But it too feels dreamy, kinda like Inception. I’m way more interested in Neil. But who cares. The story is not as well developed as Inception. Mechanisms are time and love and fate and a nameless black guy.

I think Nolan cares more about the art than what he sells. I do not think that he is shallow. But it seems Nolan would rather craft billion-dollar movies on love, subjectivity, purpose, and science than million-dollar movies exploring these themes. Marvel is a top 5 grosser but it ain’t even on the plane of serious films. Money doesn’t mean shit. I think Inception and Memento are the only Nolan films that will stand the test of time. At the end of the day, Nolan's films are great, but he is still only Kubricesque. He can make a great film, but he can’t make 2001 A Space Odyssey(legitimizes the sci-fi genre), Full Metal Jacket(contemplative commentary on war and peace), or The Shining(arguably top 15 on any list). He is incapable of finding the range in his medium, only sticking to smart and sexy because he uses the screen to push his ideas instead of developing the characters in his movies to a satisfying end. Quentin Tarantino has mastered this by not making smart and sexy movies. He makes derivatives of the films he loves with all the fanfare of Nolan. We always want a Tarantino film because they are always good movies. It thus seems kind of wasteful if Nolan’s films are less enjoyable than the themes he presents. What impact will Nolan have on the field other than making good shit to look at in IMAX and a deep ponderance of our role in the narrative we tell ourselves?

To give credit to Nolan however, there may be another way of writing this that critiques the subplots of the movies he develops. The Prestige also looks wonderful. I believe all his films have a wealth of meaning. He somehow manages to combine arthouse surrealism with blockbuster moviemaking. I might even go so far as saying Nolan has the most unique voice amongst big-budget moviemakers ever. But it all feels kinda pointless if the movie in itself is average.

Get your money though king…

Qwelian Tanner:

I’m completely wrong about this. Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, Inception, and I’m sure his latest film on Oppenheimer carry such a consistent theme that it would be ignorant of me to not see the value in his filmography.