Tenet: Defense of Convolution (Spoilers)

I’ve seen a lot of comments online that are flaming this movie. Of course I’ve seen a lot of positive feedback, but the negative responses are the ones that stuck with me. This is mainly because the criticisms are based on the convolution of the plot and nothing else. I even saw one review on Rotten Tomatoes complaining that Nolan should tone down the cerebral aspects of his films and make the plots simpler and easier to follow. This point is what I’m mad about and want to argue against. If you watched this movie and didn’t like it, that’s your opinion and I could neither change it nor want to. What I do want to change is the idea that Nolan should ease up on his mind bending aspirations. You are essentially asking a master artist to stop mixing colors or a musician to shut up and play the hits. It’s childish, selfish, and repressive. Not just repressive to the artist and open-minded viewers, but to yourself. You are cutting yourself off from alternate points of view and creativity. Not every ambitious movie that attempts to push the envelope succeeds, but Tenet is one that does.

The case could be made that there are possible plot holes, but those, to me, seem to be from the inherent issues that come from the concept of time travel. Especially time travel to the past. I ask why then do we not apply this to the many time traveling classics that are universally loved? It’s most likely that Tenet tries to take the idea and push it farther than anyone else before. If you’re not aware you should look up what the Sator Square is. Not only will it explain a little more about the movie, it will also show you how much thought went into this story. Everything we see is meant to be seen. Nolan takes us on a journey that is revealed at the end to be both the set-up and pay-off for a story we never see, but learn of through the events of this movie. The final mission is ten minutes in both direction of time; a temporal pincer movement. However, we learn at the end of the mission that this is actually the culmination of the monstrously large overarching temporal pincer created by the Protagonist of the future. The end of the mission is in a way the cut off point between the past and future Protagonist. Now the Protagonist must start his greater mission that ensures the success of his past one. Yes it is jarring and there is actually a lot more at play.

Now that I’ve talked a little bit about the ambitious plot, I want to get back to the initial argument. Anyone who thinks that Nolan shouldn’t make films like this is not a fan of Nolan. He has been making films like this since his beginning. And there are plenty, oh so plenty, of movies that offer cookie cutter plots that are easy to follow, rehashings of stories we’ve seen hundreds of times. Why would you want to stifle an innovator who elevates moviemaking to an art? Just because you didn’t understand or did understand and disliked it, that doesn’t mean you can dictate what is profound or not. I deeply enjoy movies like this. I love watching stories that I have nothing to compare to. If you don’t that’s fine, but please don’t go and write a review about of it was “Unnecessarily complicated.” It doesn’t accurately criticize the movie, but instead reveals your own insecurities. There thousands of people who were able to follow the movie, and thousands more who enjoyed the confusion and also enjoyed re-watching to better understand. Even those who understood most of the plot missed something on the first watch. It’s inevitable. However none of these people attacked their computer keyboards and clicked half a star on Rotten Tomatoes.

Tim Cogshell, a reviewer for FilmWeek, wrote “[Christopher Nolan] is very clever, but mostly irritating is what I find. [His movies] are not cerebral – they’re fake cerebral… He doesn’t even do the time travel right.” The hubris of implying there is a right way to portray time travel amazes me. I know that this goes without saying, but since someone who’s paid to review movies wrote this I’ll say it anyway. Time travel….doesn’t currently exist. Should we all come together and say Back to the Future is a bad movie because it’s not scientifically accurate? It’s almost like the genre of Science Fiction is named so because it’s not factually accurate. Also the arrogance to say Nolan is fake cerebral when he is one of the most popular cerebral filmmakers since Kubrick is laughable. There are a lot of professional film critics who make the same critiques. They also claim there ‘is no incentive to solve the movie’s puzzle.’ Incentive? You’re a film reviewer openly admitting you didn’t fully understand the movie. How is that not incentive enough to try? And if you can’t, there is plenty of people more intelligent and more eloquent than me who have written out exactly what happened and reveal all the little hints and clues Nolan threw in. I’ll admit that while I was able to follow the plot, I did miss a lot. All I figured out by the end was that the events of the movie were started by the future Protagonist going to the past. I even thought I was pretty clever for being able to follow the story. That was when I read multiple analyses by others that revealed just how much I missed. So when a movie critic says that a movie was “hard to follow” or “this cold puzzle offers no incentive to solve it,” all I hear is ‘I’m insecure about my inability to fully understand it on first watch.’ These same people would’ve lambasted 2001 a Space Odyssey, and ironically now most likely praise is as innovative and astounding. Let’s not forget that 2001 is incredibly slow pace (on purpose!) and it’s plot is not exactly easy to fully comprehend on first watch.

So to prevent this from turning into a rant of righteous anger, I’ll summarize my main point. Art is subjective and there are artists who try to push the edges and create something new and original or expand on what has already been done. Sometimes this can be initially jarring, or just flat out fail. To get up on your high horse and judge those artists is at best silly and at worst disgusting. While you are always entitled to your opinions, especially on art, please don’t rush to write your 30 word take down review on a movie you most likely didn’t give 30 seconds of introspection to.

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